CommunicationDifficult people

You don’t “have to” anything

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Words are an amazing tool in your communication tool kit. They pack a powerful punch. Like a knife, they can cut deeply and hurt or be used to free of bonds and heal. The words you choose to use can help you connect or disconnect with others.

Take a moment right now, and think about the expressions people use that drive you absolutely nuts. When you hear them, they’re like nails on a chalkboard. They distance you and provoke a visceral response, perhaps anger or defensiveness, and you’re not even sure why. These words and expressions are your “triggers” and touch something inside you. My guess is that people in your workplace are using these very words and expressions every day and whether you realize it or not, you’re responding. 

One of the most common “disconnecting” expressions I hear is “have to”, as in, “You have to do this”, or its sister expression, “You have to understand”. No, actually, you don’t “have to” do or understand anything. You may CHOOSE to do so, and choice is empowering. When someone says you “have to” do, think, or feel a certain way, it sounds like it removes your power of choice, and that’s the rub. 

COMMUNICATION TIP: Avoid saying “have to”.

When you tell yourself or someone else “have to” do something, it makes you sound powerless and like a victim. We hear ourselves saying things like, “we have to do this project. So sorry, we’d like to stay and celebrate but we have to leave. Gee, I have to exercise and eat certain foods to maintain health”. Or we plead with a colleague, “You have to understand”.

You always have options. You might not like those options and decide not to exercise them, and that’s very different than not having them at all. Acknowledging this fact and the responsibility you have for creating your own reality, changes the way you communicate. 

A much more empowering self-talk and way to connect with others is to replace your “have to” with “will”. This language implies that you have choice (however unsavoury the options may be) and that you are, in fact, exercising your own free will. Or simply replace “have to” with the present tense. 

COMMUNICATION TIP: Say “will” instead.

The sentences then become: “We will do this project (OR We’re doing this project). We’d like to stay but we’re leaving now so we’ll be up bright and early tomorrow. I will (OR do) exercise and eat certain foods to maintain health”. Instead of subjecting someone else to the “have to” bug advising that they “have to understand”, you say, “This will help explain”, or “it’s complicated for sure, let me explain”… or just drop the “You have to understand” completely. 

What words and sayings are YOU telling yourself and others that could be pushing buttons? Are the words you’re using empowering or implying that you or others have no choice? Could your words be misinterpreted ? Whether you intend for your words to irritate or not, do they?   

The first step is awareness. Listen to yourself today and over the next couple days. See if you’re using the “have to” expression. You may be completely unaware that you’ve incorporated these words into your lexicon, how often you use them or the impact they have on others. 

The words we use affect our ability to connect with others.  Remember, you don’t HAVE TO implement any of these suggestions. However, you may find that you WILL because now you’re aware. Good choice.

Comments about this article? I invite you to post them below

Until next time, here’s to …
Better communication, Better business, Better life,
Marion Grobb Finkelstein
Keynote Speaker / Corporate Trainer / Author  

© 2011-2019 Marion Grobb Finkelstein
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Communications expert, author, professional speaker Marion Grobb Finkelstein teaches individuals and organizations across Canada and beyond, how to improve morale, confidence and productivity by changing how they communicate. Chat with her at or sign up for her FREE weekly e-newsletter “Marion’s Communication Tips” at

Marion Grobb Finkelstein

Marion Grobb Finkelstein helps leaders use their natural communication strengths to build resilient teams that talk.

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