Have you ever noticed that rarely does something good come out of an interaction that starts with, “You should…” To me it feels judgmental, bossy or even dictatorial. Think about how the word should is used in everyday conversation. “You should eat five servings of vegetables and fruits each day. You should exercise at least three times per week. You should take the freeway it’s faster. You should know better.” In every one of these examples, using the word should implies that the sender knows best and if the receiver isn’t on board, they’re wrong. Especially when talking to a patient who is already in a vulnerable and dependent position.
When patients hear the word “should” come from their caregiver’s mouths, it places responsibility squarely on the patients’ shoulders. (Notice that the first part of word shoulder is should. Coincidence?)
I was doing a leadership workshop this week where the leaders were asked to recap come recent coaching opportunities in their departments. One manager told a story of a patient being taken to radiology right when her lunch tray arrived. When the patient complained that her lunch was cold when she returned, the nursing assistant said, “You should have had dietary hold it until you returned.” Saying the word “should” in this context implies that the patient ought to shoulder the responsibility for a cold meal.
In another situation, the leader overheard the nurse tell a patient, “You should have called earlier.” Again, putting the onus on the patient.
Should even sounds bad when echoing in my own head. “I should have left earlier. I should have planned better. I should get more sleep.”
How many times do you use the word should when talking with patients or co-workers? Is it always necessary? Is there another option? My advice… don’t should on your patients or yourself.