Diversity Diva

‘Should’ often gets in the way

Updated: 2014-02-11T23:53:24Z

By Michelle T. Johnson

Special to The Star


Probably the most disliked word in any language.

It’s a word that speaks to human behavior, societal expectations, cultural norms. And it’s a word that is almost always at the crux of diversity issues and problems.

I should overlook all difference. I should treat people fairly. I should say the the right things and use the right words.

The probability is that “should” is usually accompanied by fuzzy thinking that doesn’t get examined until after there’s a problem.

When, for example, you say that you should treat people fairly, what exactly does that look like? Maybe your idea of fair treatment is different from what your company thinks is fair. Or maybe the person whom you are imposing your nature of fairness on finds it unfair and patronizing.

All the time, particularly in the workplace, people “should” themselves into a state of inertia or ineptness.

When they don’t know the right thing they should say, they say nothing. That’s what I mean by inertia.

Or when they feel they should say or do a certain thing — even when lacking a basic understand of why — they barrel head first into saying something really off. That’s what I mean by ineptness.

“Should” propels people into words when silence will do. “Should” propels people to take action when sometimes the thing to do is just let events unfold and play out. Fear of choosing the wrong “should” can leave you kicking yourself later on how you handled something.

See, the problem with “should” is that it is almost always an external assessment of how to handle a situation or person, rather than an internal propulsion to take the next step because you instinctively know it’s the right thing to do.

And people often feel when they are on the other end of a “should.” When you start a new job and you stand out from the norm in any way, you know the difference between the people who genuinely welcome you to the fold versus those who introduce themselves because they know it’s what they should do.

While a legendary working relationship can start with a “should,” it can slow down the process.

We all could stand to take a look at how many “shoulds” dictate our behaviors, viewpoints and even prejudices.

The notion of second-guessing yourself is not always a bad thing. Second guessing can be a way of re-examining from time to time if you handled something in the best way or if you mis-stepped because of your assumptions on how others should behave or should react.

Send questions to Michelle T. Johnson on Facebook at www.facebook.com/diversitydiva.

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