What If…  What if you could get to your desired outcome by redirecting a conversation, without having to say no?  What if two simple words could pivot a contentious interaction into a positive outcome?  What if it were as simple as … ‘What if…’?

These are magical words. And the technique works as well in business as it does in personal interactions.

When I coach a client through a difficult conversation, I always prepare them to receive a no.  Part of that preparation is to negotiate toward what you want with a ‘what if’:  changing the interaction from a hard no to something more agreeable.

Promotion or salary increase?  The boss says no, but you respond with “What if we revisit this in 60 days after I accomplish A, B or C.”

Change in work assignment?  When you don’t get the favorable reply you were hoping for, I suggest you don’t walk away defeated, but use ‘what if’ to pivot the conversation to a suggestion of how this could work.  “What if I train my successor or we work toward a timeline that you are more comfortable with.” Flexible work schedule?  “What if we try it for 30 days and see how it goes.”

Want to try it at home when negotiating with terrorists (aka your children)?  “Mommy, I want candy for dinner!”  “What if you have 4 bites of chicken and 5 pieces of broccoli and then you can pick a piece of candy.”  Notice the absence of a no.  And both you and your child feel like you won without a battle.

On a budget and a friend suggests a pricey restaurant?  “What if we meet for dessert or what if we go to [insert a more budget-friendly option].”

At the end of the day, if you can pivot and show an alternative, it empowers you and increases the likelihood of a favorable outcome. 


  • Barbara Palmer

    Transforming Employees into Working Parents and Super Heroes

    Founder of Your4thTrimester and Broad Perspective Consulting, Barbara Palmer taps into her 25+ years of marketing, operations and executive experience to help employees navigate their Oh Sh*t Moments:  leading a team, adding a child into their already full lives, advocating for promotion, and career transitions. Focused on providing support, guidance and third party neutrality, Barbara works with employees around key milestones to assure they have the tools they need to address the issues that matter to them most and can remain squarely focused on getting 'stuff' done.  For more of her Wisdom for the Week, subscribe to her newsletter here.