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<xTITLE>Don't Should On Yourself or Others</xTITLE>

Don't Should On Yourself or Others

by Cinnie Noble
April 2014

Cinergy Coaching by Cinnie Noble

Cinnie Noble
Have you had the experience when a friend, colleague or family member tries to impose their beliefs, needs, values, or expectations on you regarding a way you handled a situation? I have never been fussy about sentences that start with “You should have…” and then a pronouncement of what the speaker thinks would have been more appropriate. Of course, it may well be that I did not use my strongest conflict mastery skills at these times. Yet, I am not meaning to share what happened so that I am admonished – at least, that is how it feels.

It seems to me that what is inherent in telling others what they ‘should’ have done or said is full of judgement. When we ‘should’ on others, we patronize them and undermine the other person’s ability to handle a situation in her or his way and within the context and relationship, which we may not really know or understand. In any case, it is not really up to us to be the conflict police and consider our rules as the ones to which others much adhere.

The expression “shoulding yourself” describes a form of cognitive distortion, according to psychologist Clayton Barbeau, who apparently copied the expression. Another psychologist, Albert Ellis, referred to this concept as “musterbation”. In a related article entitled “Shoulding Yourself, Shoulding Others”, the author states that shoulding yourself or musterbation “consists of telling yourself that you have an obligation to do something different from what you are doing”. The author goes on to say:

“We get into trouble shoulding ourselves when it takes the form of an automatic thought. In this form, the ‘should’ comes to us as an abstract, universal obligation such that if we don’t do what we ‘should’ do we are wrong and feel guilty. Guilt is an important and real experience. But it is a response to moral failure. To feel guilty about our personal choices which have no long-term effects is to trivialize guilt.”

The implication of ‘shoulding’ others – not just ourselves – is contained within this description. That is, we guilt others by opining what they ought to have done and imply they have failed. The same author further explains the concept of choice as it pertains to ‘shoulds’. She says:

“One way to break the hold of ‘should’ automatic thoughts is to bring the thought out in the open and substitute the word ‘choose’ for the word ‘should’. If you find yourself squirming with the automatic thought, ‘I should start my essay’, change it to ‘I choose to start my essay’. You’re a free agent. It makes very little sense for you to say, ‘I should do this, but I choose not to’. Such a statement reveals the ‘should’ for the illogical and confusing term that it is. If you don’t choose to do it, you don’t really believe you should do it.”

Whether you tend to ‘should’ on yourself or others, here are ConflictMastery™ Quest(ions) based on the above discussion on today’s topic.

Thinking of a time you told yourself what you ‘should’ have done about a conflict (after the fact), what did you do in the first place?

What did or do you feel guilty about (if that is what you feel or felt) with respect to what you said or did? What else did you feel?

What do you think you ought to have done differently?

What happened that resulted in you believing you should have done something differently?

What other choices did you have in that circumstance?

What got in your way of saying or doing one or more of those?

When someone has ‘should’ on you in this same conflict or another one, what did she or he tell you?

What did that feel like?

What do you suppose she or he thought your obligation was in this situation? What do you think your obligation was to yourself in that situation?

The next time you begin to tell people what you think they should do or say, what will occur to you based on this discussion?

What other ConflictMastery™ Quest(ions) may you add here?


Cinnie Noble is a certified coach (PCC) and mediator and a former lawyer specializing in conflict management coaching. She is the author of two coaching books: Conflict Management Coaching: The CINERGY™ Model and Conflict Mastery: Questions to Guide You.

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