Often when problems at the workplace arise, most leaders tend to use “should” when they ask for input or feedback.
For example, your team has to meet an early deadline next week, but you’re less than 50% done.
The question “What should we do?” often gives the two most plausible answers to this dilemma — compel everyone to work overtime or continue at the same pace and hope for the best.
However, a study published in the Academy of Management Journal says that using “should” when faced with problems typically limits the field of possibilities. “Should” implies a finite set of choices.
The best way to approach a problem? Substituting “should” with “could.”
According to the study, simply substituting the word “could” for “should” causes people to generate more and better solutions.
“What could your team do to meet the deadline next week?”
Well, for one, you could distribute the work among everybody to help those falling behind or find additional people to help.
Another solution would be to outsource some tasks to third-party service providers. Or, you could be honest with the client and ask for an extended deadline.
“Could” opens things up. “Could” implies you haven’t narrowed the solution to a couple of choices. “Could” offers unlimited solutions.
As the researchers wrote, “Having a could mindset helps individuals engage in divergent thinking. (And) in group contexts, we find that adopting a could mindset encouraged individuals to spend more time discussing these dilemmas and generating more ideas.”
So next time there’s a problem within the workplace, instead of asking “What should we do?,” ask for “What could the team do?”
Your team could collectively search for a more creative solution to apply. Something that no one would ever consider if you stuck with “should.”