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  • Katherine Dudley Hoehn

Have You Considered How You Make Suggestions?

If only the gelato choices in Venice were but three

One of my favorite sayings is “You don’t have to tell ME three times.” This is because often it takes more than one error for things to resonate with me. Usually after the second blunder I figure it out. But when it comes to words, I can be slow to learn a lesson.

Lake with ducks in front, mountains and a boat behind
Lake Garda. Italy

I did not think about how my words would be received during a conversation with a dear friend. An accomplished writer and teacher, he chooses his words carefully. I knew when he suggested how I could have avoided being offensive, that I needed to listen carefully.

“Kat, instead of presenting an idea with ‘you should ___,’ try saying ‘have you considered ___?’” Until that point, I had not spent much time thinking about how my choice of words could affect how much or how little impact they had. As a parent of two sons, it was irresponsible of me not to have realized how dictatorial and offensive “you should” sounded.

How I felt when I realized my mistake!

Rather than making my suggestion a command, rewording it as a thought-provoking question allows the other person to adopt the idea as their own. Everyone wins that way. The idea is more likely to be implemented, and the recipient of the suggestion feels great about their actions.

The point is not about who gets the credit for the idea, but that the message is delivered in such a way that positive action follows.

Soon after that conversation, I wrote him an email, presenting an idea with, “You should” — I blew it. How thoughtless. Making the mistake with the very person who tried to help me was doubly embarrassing.

So you don’t have to tell me three times, right? Wrong.

I needed to expand my view to see the impact of my words. From Bardi Castle.

Later that same day, I killed an idea in a matter of seconds by telling my adult son he “should” do something. My edict was a complete conversation-stopper. A sales job was bungled and a good idea vaporized because I was giving an order rather than presenting an idea for consideration.

“You should…” was judgmental, lacked inclusion, and did not invite discussion or acceptance of new ideas. Conversely, “Have you considered…” would have paved the road, invited conversation, and helped come up with the best solution.

Have you considered how your choice of words affects the outcome of your suggestion?

Looking up in the Cathedral of Parma, Italy


This is an updated version of a blog I wrote nearly 10 years ago. It still applies today. I have heard "you should" a lot recently, so obviously my message wasn't heard by the world. The unrelated photos are all from my recent trip to Italy.

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