Ask Yourself, “What If…?”

Posted by on Sep 8, 2015 | No Comments


I’m always amazed at how transferable my theatre degree has turned out to be in the world of work. I never imagined that it would serve me as as it has and give me tools that I use daily in my personal and business practices. One acting technique that has become the foundation for everything I do is the “Magic If”.

When creating a character for the stage, you have to consider everything that makes a person who they are and why they do what they do. You consider all of the given circumstances. You do what is called a “Character Analysis”, and explore their history, values, beliefs, physical characteristics. You look at the relationships between the different characters in the play. Who has the power? Who tells the truth? Who doesn’t? Why?

And you do all of this to come to a single basic question: Given everything you know about your character and the world he/she lives in, what would I do if I were in these circumstances?

What would I do if I were in these circumstances?

If, as an actor, you approach this critical question with any judgment at all, your performance is guaranteed to ring false and all presence goes out the window. Without a doubt, the audience will find you phony and uninteresting.  Instead, you simply have to relinquish any preconceived ideas you might have about anything or anyone, look at the given circumstances, put yourself in their shoes, and move forward. What would happen if we practiced this in life?

What would happen if we practiced this in life?

The opportunity to practice this lesson always seems to come to me while I’m driving.  I remember once, when I was on my way to a meeting and running a bit behind so I was – well yes, I admit it, I was going about 7 miles an hour over the speed limit.  It was 6:30 in the morning. I was winding my way through the neighborhood, when I found myself driving behind a van that was going at least 7 miles an hour under the speed limit. I slowed down, muttering, “Come on…come on…”, and as followed about a car’s length behind the van I could see that the rear window held a large neon yellow sticker boldly saying, “Do not tailgate!”  Suddenly the van stopped abruptly in the middle of the street, a head popped around from the front, and could I see arms futzing with things in the backseat (more grumpy muttering on my part). I took the next left to escape the pokey van, and continued in my frenzy to get to my meeting on time. I parked, centered myself, and got out of my car, when I was met by the venomous van-woman who shouted at me, “You! You need to learn how to drive!  You scared me half to death!”  I was bewildered, embarrassed, a bit confused, and full of judgment.  Time for the “Magic If”.

Taking in all the given circumstances – the speed of the van, the message on the rear window, her reaction when she saw me – I can imagine that this woman has had a bad experience with someone tailgating in the past.  I can understand that, because of her probable past-experience, she is more fearful and angry than the situation warranted, and that her reaction is probably not about me.  I’ve been fearful in the past.  I’ve been angry in the past. I know how that feels.  Now, rather than judging her, I can empathize with her.  My reaction is diffused, and I can go on with my day.  I can learn what I have control over (my reactions/going 7 miles an hour over the speed limit/leaving on-time to get to my meeting/etc), and let go of what I don’t (her reaction/her driving speed/her need to search for things in the back seat while driving).  The “Magic If” gives us a chance to step back.  To think before we react.

The “Magic If” gives us a chance to step back.  To think before we react.

Think for a moment, how this could impact your life.  What if you could step into your client’s shoes and see from their perspective?  Not just to uncover their possible objections, but to understand how they feel when they do business with you. What would you do differently?

What if you could step into your boss’ shoes and better understand the stress and demands she is experiencing?  What if you could step into the shoes of your associate?  What might he balancing in his life?  How does he feel about himself when you’re around?

And outside of our work environment…What if you could step into your child’s shoes?  Your neighbor’s?  The guy behind the counter at Starbucks?  The woman sleeping on the sidewalk?

We all react to the world from our own set of “given circumstances”.  Imagine the kind of world we’d have if everyone could simply step back – even for a moment – and see through someone else’s eyes.

Make a difference today.  Ask yourself, “What if…….?”


©OnStage Leadership, 2015

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KimberKimberly-Davis-Headshot-20142ly Davis is the Founder/Director of OnStage Leadership, a full-day experiential leadership workshop.  Click here to read what people are saying!  If you’re interested in more information, or in having Kimberly come speak to your group on topics around Authentic Leadership, Influence, Presence, Engagement, Purpose in the workplace, Presentation Skills, or being BRAVE at work, we’d love to hear from you!

If you haven’t had a chance, check out my recent Tedx talk  or my interview on Voice of America’s Working on Purpose Channel:  Bringing Our True and Best Selves to Work:  Cultivating Authentic Leadership with Kimberly Davis.

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