Negotiations Training 101: Ban the Word “Should”

Negotiations training

Should: we have all heard it, we have all said it. When dealing with others, whether on a professional team, in a business negotiation, or even in our own homes, people often allow themselves the luxury of thinking about what other people “should” have done. This thinking can even seep into the way people talk to themselves, demanding that they “should” or “ought to” be better.

Negotiations experts warn against the use of the word “should” in our communication with ourselves and others. Here’s why:

“Should” calls on a person to act from an obligation

In a recent negotiations training, the trainer shared a valuable insight. As you sort through different negotiations tactics, remember one underlying principle: people are all making decisions to meet their own needs.

They use negotiation strategies that will get them closer to fulfilling those needs (Rosenberg, 2015). They are not going to want to do things because they must, but because doing so helps them to meet their needs.

When you tell your team what they “should” do, you’re asking them to ignore their own needs analysis and the strategies they use to get those needs met. You ask them instead to act out of a sense of duty, rather than passion. This dissonance can lead people to feel guilt at failing to meet your expectations. They may also feel rebellion against that sense of obligation.

Guilt can lead them to agree to do things because they feel they must, leading to embitterment and straining the relationship you’ve built. Rebellion can cause people to reject your ideas and proposals out of hand. These sentiments can create tension and hinder team decisions.

When you move away from “should,” you can move towards a productive negotiation strategy that will answer the questions “what are everyone’s needs?” and “how can they all be met?” The ideal outcome will promote team collaboration and provide mutual benefits, instead of compelling your team to ignore their needs out of a sense of duty about what they “should” do.

“Should” assumes shared knowledge of your needs

Many people, even with years of negotiations training, find themselves using “should” when they believe other people have understood their needs. They imagine the other person knows what they desire and has chosen to ignore it.

They believe that the other person should know what they need and should not be ignoring their interests. This nagging sentiment can lead to outrage and hurt feelings, always damaging in the workplace.

A smart negotiator’s skills will cause them to take a step back from their emotional reaction and ask whether they have been clear with their co-workers about their needs. Rather than quietly expecting more from the other person and getting frustrated or hurt when they don’t deliver, a person with good communications and negotiations skills will work to express their needs and expectations in a clear, concrete, and actionable way.

“Should” often provides an unclear and unattainable standard

Many times when people use “should”, their internal demand is for someone to be flawless. “You should not make mistakes.” “You should never close a bad deal.” Statements like these may seem legitimate, at first glance. Nonetheless, they leave a lack of clarity.

What is a mistake? What is a bad deal? These definitions change from context to context, making it hard for those you work with to understand, much less live up to, the demands of your “should”.

Without that clarity, it’s nearly impossible for them to gauge whether or not they’re disappointing you. This leads to feelings of frustration, disappointment, and shame, which can hinder development and creativity.

That’s why it’s important for teams to build communication skills that allow them to provide clear expectations, rather than sulking silently in their disappointment about what “should” have occurred.

Likewise, even with a clear definition, “should” doesn’t really leave space for human error. It demands perfection. However, people make mistakes as they move through life. To stay motivated, folks need attainable goals.

“Should” emphasizes the negative, highlighting where your team has fallen short. It diminishes their successes as merely something they were expected to do. By moving away from “should”, you can create space for new ideas, for learning by doing, and for curiosity and growth.

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“Should” suggests that people have implicit shared values

The word “should” not only assumes that your team understand your needs, but also implies that they are guided by the same set of needs and values as you are.

If you think back on any business negotiation you have been a part of, you’ll remember that people’s beliefs and value systems are quite different. Indeed, that variability is part of what makes life (and business) so interesting. People’s different ideas about the world are guided by cultural norms, religious and political beliefs, and their own set of experiences.

You cannot assume that the person you are working with shares your value set. When you use “should”, you are seeking to control the definition of right and wrong, while ignoring the differing beliefs and values that the other person brings.

When you negotiate with the people you work with, your goal isn’t to prioritize your beliefs about what the other person “should” do, overriding their own belief system. Rather, those spaces allow you to seek a win-win, in which everyone acts according to their values and needs to move the group towards a common goal.

“Should” limits creativity

When you get stuck with one idea of the “right” way to do things, which others “should” respect and follow, you limit your own creativity. And if there’s anything that negotiation trainings teach you, it’s that successful employees allow themselves the curiosity and openness to seek creative solutions.

If you can only imagine one way of doing things, you lose the ability to envision solutions that could leave all parties feeling satisfied. You and your team need more flexibility in your business and negotiation strategies than a single-minded “should” will ever allow you.

Staying Away from “Should”

When you use “should” too often at work, it creates an environment that demands people act from a sense of duty rather than desire. It leads to miscommunication and hurt feelings. It limits creativity. By eliminating “should” from your vocabulary, you will open the door to honest and clear communication, creative proposals, and space for your team’s individuality and passion.

Lilou Hoffman

Negotiation specialists The Negotiation Experts' site provides posts, Q&A’s, negotiation case study analysis, cartoons and definitions. Their mission is to arm trainers, writers and negotiators alike with insights to improve their negotiation knowledge and capabilities.

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