“Don’t Should on Someone!!”

On my way to volunteer to mediate for one of the Harris County’s Justice of the Peace Courts in the greater Houston area, I typically call my mom. The drive usually takes me over an hour and I can have long conversations while waiting in traffic. My mom is in her early 80’s and has lived a full life to this point. We usually talk about what is going on in our lives at that very moment. Inevitably, the conversation turns to her difficulty in making left turns with her car or, even worse, a long detailed story about the life of someone completely unfamiliar to me. Just when I think about hanging up the phone to call my brother and sisters to say, “Mom has finally lost it!” my mom totally redeems herself with a pearl of wisdom.

The latest conversation began with my mom telling me about her new cell phone, which she claims is “too much” phone for her. I said to her “You should have bought a cheaper phone!” She yelled “Don’t should on me!” Wait, what…”Don’t should on me?” What the heck does that mean? Her explanation so impressed me that I thought it should be a part of my mediation training.

Clip Art Source: Legate, D. (2007). Free Text Clip Art. Retrieved from http://freetextclipart.blogspot.com/

“Don’t should on me” is a clever way to remember to not give someone unsolicited advice. In my case, my mom told me her cell phone was too much and I said, “You should have bought a cheaper one.” She wasn’t looking for someone to tell her that she should have done anything. She really just wanted to vent her frustrations and wanted me to validate them. But alas, we all like to give advice and I fell right into that pattern. I certainly failed the “active listening” test! People typically are not looking for advice; they just want someone to listen to them. If they want advice, they will ask for it.

As mediators, we are taught that it is unethical to give any type of advice to our clients, whether it is financial, legal or any other kind. Giving advice breaks every ethical code mediators swear to uphold. On rare occasions, mediators often tell one or more of the disputing parties “they should” something… Typically, it is “You should consider this option”. However, as a mediator, you “should” not be telling someone they “should” anything. This is giving advice and it is unethical. So remember my new favorite saying, “Don’t Should on Yourself and Never Should on Others!!”

5 thoughts on ““Don’t Should on Someone!!”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hmm…usually I would have already tuned out of the conversation with MY mom, and would have missed her ranting about her new phone. Thanks for the advise Steve!

  2. Chris says:

    Good one Steve. I know your mom and totally understand. Instead of should, she likes to say , “I hope you ” did such and such” and “maybe you could”. do such and such. She’s a real hoot. Ok, go get her a phone she can cope with now, please!

  3. Nora Fisher says:

    A wonderful aspect of mediation is the opportunity to bring to light the many perspectives and wisdom surrounding us and to consider them thoughtfully. Thanks Steve, for sharing wisdom and aged insight from your mother!

  4. Cyn Green says:

    This was very good…I am often ”shoulding” on people. I have been clearly told to stop it through this blog. Thank you Steve. No more, “you should.” Cyn Green

    • Steve Kreider says:


      I stopped “shoulding” people as soon as my mom told me I was doing it. I still hear people “shoulding”, but like a good mediator, I do not interject what I am feeling or thinking.

      Thanks for reading and replying!

      Kind regards,

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