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A technique often used in coaching is the “What if…?”.

We use “What If ?” questions to prepare the coachee to:

  • Face challenges consequent to a particular action planned and
  • Open up their own thoughts to a diverse range of possibilities

They are pushed to consider what might happen under different circumstances. I was engaged in preparing Menon, ( not his real name) a senior executive, to present a plan to his top management team. This plan, about which he was very excited, involved a fair amount of risk and considerable investment on the part of the organization.

However, Menon had done his homework well and was convincing when he first presented the bare bones of his plan to me as a dry run.

We ask ‘what if..’ questions to get coachees to consider various possible consequences to their planned actions. This helps them to be prepared for reactions and questions about their planned actions.

“What if …”questions are also used to open up the coachee’s mind to possibilities they may not have considered.

As is obvious, the questions are designed based on the particular situation and the person involved. To illustrate the technique, here are some “ What if” questions I asked Menon that day to prepare for his important presentation:-

  • What if the time to implement was cut by half?
  • What if you had access to more resources?
  • What if some one else, instead of you, was made responsible for this project?
  • What if you had to train some one else to lead the project?
  • What if your plan is rejected outright?
  • What if the actions planned don’t achieve the objective?
  • What if you were given more responsibilities which make it impossible for you to personally lead this intitiative?

Planning is key to success. Looking at different scenarios broadens our thinking. Are our plans flexible enough to cater to changed circumstances? How much leeway do we have if resources are cut substantially? By anticipating objections and obstacles, we clarify our thought process so as to be better prepared to defend our ideas and sell our viewpoints.

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This is the 93 rd of the “A Step A Day” series : To provide perspective and provoke thought to facilitate self-development across a wide spectrum of issues- big and small- crucial for executive success.