‘Revolution starts in the mind. Question everything.’ (Bryant McGill)
If – a tiny word, one of the shortest in the English language – framed as a question, can open up a whole array of possibilities. It can raise insights and ideas into awareness by presenting a hypothesis that stretches the imagination and creates the potential for breakthrough. Used in coaching, consultancy and action learning, it can help shift a conversation beyond the what-is to the what-could-be; from a place of stuck-ness towards radical and liberating solutions.
Posed in invitational, coactive tone: ‘If we were to have a really useful conversation, what would we be talking about?’ ‘If we were to introduce this change, what would it mean for you?’ ‘If we were to move ahead with this, what would you need?’ ‘If you were to do this with confidence, what would you be doing?’ ‘If you were to be successful in this venture, what would that make possible?’ ‘If you had a good-enough answer to this question, what would it be?’
If you were to draw more on the power of ‘if’, what difference could that make?
‘Who does what?’ Someone asked this during a coactive appraisal workshop I was running with Sue Powell last week. Their focus was on roles, responsibilities and systems: ‘Who invites feedback from others?’ ‘Who fills in the form?’ ‘Who follows up any agreed actions afterwards?’ A different set of questions can reframe the conversation entirely: ‘What are we here to do?’ ‘What is the purpose of the appraisal?’ ‘How shall we do this?’ ‘What approach will achieve it best?’
The latter conversation invites the appraisee into the process as an active participant, not as a passive recipient. In fact, it invites all parties into a potentially transformational cultural conversation, not simply a discussion about performance or even development. ‘What is important to us that we (insert various stakeholders here) are trying to achieve?’ It touches on existential beliefs, purpose and values as much as pragmatic goals, actions and other such considerations.
‘What’s your passion?’ ‘How might you/we know what difference your contribution is making?’ ‘What will need to happen for that to happen?’ ‘What are we ready, willing and able to agree on – here and now?’ ‘What responsibility are you willing to take to move this forward?’ ‘What will you need?’ It can turn an oft bureaucratic process into an energising, supportive and challenging conversation where personal, team and organisational aspirations are harmonised and synergised.
In my experience, no system, no matter how well designed or how simple or sophisticated its forms are, can achieve this change. Essential ingredients include: vision and values that resonate with deeper spiritual/existential/social values; leadership and culture that welcome and affirm personal and distributed leadership; relationships that nurture diversity, mutuality and trust. ‘Who does what?’: a good question. ‘What are we here to do?’ ‘How shall we do this?’: great questions!
I'm a psychological coach, trainer and OD consultant. Curious to discover how can I help you? Get in touch!
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