Calling All Marketers: Let's Banish the Word 'Should'

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Words are the lifeblood of marketers and corporate communicators. Yet, seldom do we take time to reflect on the positive or negative power that a single common word can have on our intended audiences. Yes, there are plenty of words that scholars and social researchers advise marketers to avoid. For example, the word very rarely adds anything useful to a sentence. In fact, among the hundreds of writing pundits who advise not using very, inbound marketing HubSpot’s Niti Shah says the word has no business being said out loud.

Here’s another: Time Magazine suggests that the word ‘hope’ implies a lack of planning and to delete it entirely from your entrepreneurial vocabulary.

The word I want to focus on in this post is should.


I’ve been trying to eliminate should from my lexicon in communicating with co-workers, clients, media – anyone, actually. It’s a lesson I learned from a former co-worker and friend who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. While she struggled with her new physical reality, mental, emotional and spiritual issues also overwhelmed her. Her doctor advised her to reduce as much stress as possible so she could concentrate on coping successfully with her diagnosis. As she navigated the myriad stress-reducing techniques available, one of the most effective was really quite simple: Eliminate should from her vocabulary.

“Simple,” however, does not mean “easy.” How many times a day do you utter the word should? How many times do you hear it in conversation? See it in ad copy? Come across it in a strategic plan, blog post, or even a tweet? How frequently do you type it in an email?

Eliminating any word that most corporate communicators and marketers take for granted can be daunting, but, depending on the word, can reap big benefits. Think about it:

  • Should places on our shoulders the burden of others’ expectations, rather than liberating us to live life on our own terms. “I should lose weight,” “I should be making more money” are two examples of a thought pattern that demands we live up to what somebody else thinks is the proper way to approach life regardless of our own desires. The same holds true for us as professional communicators: “I should be earning an agency promotion,” or “I should be winning that marketing award.”
  • Should is a shame-based word. Telling anyone – a co-worker, friend, spouse – that they should do this or should not do that is a passive way of pointing out that they are NOT doing what you want them to.
  • In a work setting, should indicates a lack of respect for the other – an inflexible “father knows best” attitude that can shut down back-and-forth dialogue that could generate better ideas. “You should use this process,” or “You should work with so-and-so on this project” may be well-intentioned advice, but phrases like this can deter an employee from searching for a better way.
  • Even in a PR and social media marketing agency setting like ours, telling a client that they should do something that we recommend implies that we know their business better than they do, and that’s not conducive to nurturing a productive agency/client partnership.

I’ve been working at eliminating should from my vocabulary for years, and still catch myself saying it occasionally. But, it’s worth the effort when you consider how negative the word is and how much guilt and shame it generates in all of us. So, please, stop shoulding on yourself.

Lessons Learned from My Journey to Remove Should from My Daily Word Diet

  1. Be conscious – Recognize the power of your words and continually be mindful of how you use them. Start by just listening for the word and, when you hear it, make note of it.
  2. Focus on the benefits – Instead of telling a co-worker or client they should be doing more of something; try to focus on the benefit of taking that particular action.
  3. Change your attitude – Rather than shoulding yourself to the gym, into saving more money or putting in extra hours to complete a work assignment, which is sure to generate fear, guilt or feelings of worthlessness, substitute should with want and see if you’re more likely to actually do the things you’ll benefit from.
  4. Realize you always have options – There is nothing – and I mean nothing – in this world that we HAVE to do. Yes, the consequences of doing certain things – like not paying your taxes or disobeying the law – are more dire than, say, not washing the dishes tonight. But it’s always our choice. That realization is incredibly liberating.

Try eliminating should from your daily word choice. It will take time. But, be patient; you’ll see improvements in your stress levels. You’ll also discover more positive, engaging conversations that can lead to more meaningful relationships both personally and professionally.

About the Author

Gwen Chynoweth

Gwen Chynoweth is the executive vice president and chief talent officer at Minneapolis-based Maccabee, a strategic public relations and online marketing agency.

Topics:  Corporate Communications, PR Perspectives

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