The trouble with “You should…”

moralizingHave you ever found yourself saying “You should…” to someone? “You should try kale; it’s really good for you.” “You should tell her how you feel.” We say “you should…” when we feel we know best. And while we may have very good information, saying “You should” to someone is usually moralizing.

True confession, as a direct communicator – someone who shares my feelings and opinions easily – I have found myself saying “You should…” a few times. Okay, okay, truth be told, I say it a lot. I get passionate about things when I see their benefit and it’s hard for me to not want to share whatever it is. But the problem with saying those two words is it stops conversation. People feel judged or like they’re being sold to. So, what’s a person to do when she wants to share something that could be helpful?

I was thinking about a recent situation where a friend shared with me that her husband was very sick with either pneumonia or acute bronchitis. I immediately thought of my husband who three years ago kept getting cold after cold and then pneumonia all in one winter. I insisted he get his vitamin D levels checked at the doctor. And sure enough his vitamin D level was very low. Vitamin D helps give us a strong immune system so that we can fight off viruses, bacterial infections and dangerous inflammation in our bodies. Most people don’t get enough through their diet or through sun exposure from October to May, especially in dark, rainy Seattle. Today, if my husband regularly takes his vitamin D he does not get sick.

So, with my friend I mentioned that her husband should take Vitamin D because of how important it is to our immune system. Oops, preaching. What could I have done differently? Well, I could have not said anything about the supplement and let her and her husband deal with his illness their way. Or, I could have said, “Eric had pneumonia three years ago and discovered his vitamin D levels were very low. Once he started taking vitamin D he stopped getting sick.” Notice I didn’t say “You should get your husband to take vitamin D.” I simply shared my experience with the supplement and left it at that.

The other part to stopping “you should” language is to also get rid of expectations. If I choose to share the story about the power of vitamin D for Eric with my friend, I have to let go of expectations that she will talk to her husband about the supplement. I can share my experience and then must leave it at that. Oh so hard sometimes.

How do you feel when people tell you you should do something? Are you happy for the advice or do you feel as if someone is preaching to you? Are you someone who says “you should” on a regular basis? How do people react?

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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>


  1. Beth Buelow on May 4, 2015 at 5:34 pm

    Arden, this post is so spot on! Thank you for pointing out the problems with “you should.” It’s often meant to be helpful (as I’m sure was your intention with your friend), but that help can easily miss its target. As you say, it’s got a hint of judgment to it. It’s also a form of unsolicited advice, which may or may not be welcomed by the other person. I know can be guilty of that, despite my efforts to minimize it!! Your suggestions are really gracious ways to shift the way we offer something to someone.

  2. Arden Clise on May 4, 2015 at 5:43 pm

    Beth, thank you for commenting. You’re right, “You should” connotes judgement and is unsolicited advice. Not what I intended nor probably what many of us intend. But that’s often how it’s received. Glad my suggestions are helpful.

  3. Carole on May 4, 2015 at 6:45 pm

    I don’t know which I dislike more: when someone tells me “you should”, or when I hear myself say “you should”. Great post!

  4. Arden Clise on May 4, 2015 at 11:09 pm

    I’m with you Carole. Both are bad. You should tell me the next time I tell you “you should…” 😉

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