"The unedited musings of a recovering madman"

What Do You Want: A Diatribe
Should you use the question: What do you want?

In Business Coaching?

In the past I have come unglued with the what do you want question, although these days I'm calmer and say each to his/her own.

Yet, here are my comments about the subject:

What do you want is usually driven through conscious need (in the moment, where most people are NOT functioning consciously, if that makes any sense), not through unconscious desire (motives) as it is intended when you are on a path guided by the conscious exploration of your gifts/strengths)

When the client answers this question at the end of a coaching interaction, it may produce a non-business worthy action, which is not right action, but a response to a need in an altered state--which may be (more than likely) balanced to reduce the tension between what is desired and is an end, with the means in which to resolve those ends.

What do you want is a question that is normally answered out of significant blindness as most people have done little or no work on awareness of the tensions mentioned above, hence you get people into altered states that are most of the time, impractical, as most of us want our dreams...yet, much of the time, we are not prepared to do what is necessary to accumulate them because dreams come from untested beliefs we acquire over time about how the world works--whether it be from fairy tales as children or adults!

Caveat: There is nothing wrong with living your dreams, but in business, you have to separate what is real from what is unreal in terms of the business capacity and capability.  Failure to do so results in an inability to share your gifts with the world or a wider audience because you didn't manage the business framework--you were dreaming without testing your assumptions in the world you've made up as real.

So, life is lived along a path of wants, which takes us here, takes us there and we loose most of our ability to compound our interest and accumulate
along a path of desire/ends that are gratifying, yet requires management of what we want.

Therefore I discourage the asking of what do you want as a question we use in B\Coach because not only is it a serious prompt, but it produces
unrealistic altered states that often lead to poor business decision-making.

That is my initial point,


A follow-up question:

Hi Mike,

I read your comments re: the "What do you want?" question and I am a bit confused.

Are you saying that it is not a great idea to ask that question in our coaching sessions? Or are you saying that it is best never to ask this question?

Can you say more?....
Don't we ask "What do you want?" (near and far) or a version of that in the ISIS or Integral Mapping System we do with clients?

I would appreciate your thoughts.


My Answer

This is a good question.

1. When we're working with a client in integral mapping, most of the time we are teaching, training or consulting...this is different because "clients normally have their "shields" up and are not in an altered state because they are working/mapping assumptions and beliefs and know to question and test their beliefs around what they want.

2. Over the years, I've found that most people don't know what they want--just what they need--and the need arises based on life living them. They are being lived, rather than living, so to speak. This is not necessarily bad or good, it depends on what is at stake. If you're the Enron CEO, managing the dichotomy between what he wants and what the thousands of people dependent on that want are two different perspectives!

What it depends on...is what the person's capability/capacity ratio.

I won't go there right now, I'll go back to the question.

Should you never ask what do you want?

I'm not saying that, but I don't use that question.


Because in most cases, people can't differentiate between what they want and what they need?

In some case, helping people get a better look at ISIS can help, but you'll notice there are really no questions design per se, around what do you want, except in vision, now, near and far. And even then, what we want is often not differentiated from what do we need.

This is the reason I like the Reiss Inventory of Motivational Sensitivity. [You can take it here, if you're not a B\Coach Community Member.  IF you are it is free as a part of your membership.]

Even though Reiss is based on conscious answers to questions, it identifies motivational sensitivity to certain things that have been consistent through our lives, or at least to some extent. Again, I see people fill out Reiss based on what they want and NOT how they are, which distorts the results.

Why do I have such an issue with "what do you want?"

Largely because people confuse it with what they currently need.

Is it about what we want, or need (means) or what is ultimately gratifying as ENDS, that is important.

Again, back to my point: People are lived, they don't live.

What are they lived by?

What has them?

A lot of that is translated unconsciously into needs.

I'm not saying this is bad.

What I am saying is that if you ask the question what do you want, rather than what is important, then you have to further clarify whether what a person wants is important and why?

I know this sounds like double-talk to some of you and so be it, however the brain-states created by what do you want, versus what is important are different in my view.

The state of importance can also be driven through need. So, care must be taken to probe, not prompt these states. Prompting leads, probing tests.

Yet, often in business coaching, working from what is important versus what do you want are too entirely different issues.

In my view, TOO MANY COACHES are following the NLP stuff of putting people in the towards side of their brain in an altered state, from which the person may make choices that ultimately harm them, their business, their relationships; or all.

Again, I know I'm being a little edgy here, but I agree with Berglass who wrote the much battered article in HBR about harming people with Executive Coaching. I just agree with him for different reasons.

The reason is that if you put someone synthetically into the towards side of their brain, especially in an altered state, you are partially responsible for what that state produces. Now, in my view, NLP is trying to manipulate people for some reason or another. This may or may not be acceptable or not, it depends.  Even putting yourself in altered states without purpose has consequences that may be undesirable.

Do the purpose work!

What I'm saying is, I avoid it, until the client begins to ask the questions.

If the client asks the question, versus me asking the question as their coach, then I'm more comfortable with whatever takes place...I can probe easily without leading, taking  responsibility or accountability, authority (RAA) for their outcomes.  IF I INDUCE the altered state, then I'm stuck with sharing all of those, no matter what I say about RAA!

Since, the B\Coach philosophy takes NO responsibility, authority, or accountability for client outcomes, I try to model NOT leading the client in anyway into altered states that produce conditions where the client may be making decisions without their normal faculties.

If the client goes there on their own, it gives me the coach, the opportunity to test the efficacy of their actions and I don't have to worry whether my smooth form of questioning, or failure to be conscious around my own actions around them that produces a decision-state that could be harmful to them.

I see this all the time in the uninitiated and I have been harmed by this very thing myself and I'll protect the high profile coach who was responsible.

As a towards person myself, I can produce altered states very easily, all too easily and I suffer from them all too often.  The primary reason is that I don't test my efficacy in the altered state in the state where I must make things real. While I'll get spiritual pushback here, I can point to many more examples of people, myself included--not functioning well as a result of using altered states to make decisions than not in business...as well as personal lives, but we'll stick to business.

How many times have you seen someone walk out of a motivated, altered state and make silly commitments they never kept.  What is that?

Or worse, allocate resources based on that state (buy something they shouldn't have) and suffer consequences?

Get my point now?

While altered states may be beneficial to me and keeps me optimistic, I have developed the apparatus to function (some times) that I need to recover from decisions I make in these altered states--most people don't recover, they loose their business over time as a result of these poor, non-purposeful decisions!

In my view, most people haven't developed the experience or efficacy to work effectively in and out of altered states* and consequently they are put into these altered states way too often by people who "know" (manipulators, influencers) and "don't know" (most people who practice coaching) what they are doing.

In my view, this is a fine line between "do no harm" and "harm."

I have written extensively on the this topic...do no harm.

Therefore, get yourself--and your manipulation--out of the way.

Second, don't put the client into altered states when you don't know what you are doing and they don't know what they are doing. It is manipulative at best, dangerous at worst.

I don't want my clients out there acting according to states that they themselves have not authored and even in those authored states, one requires the guidance of purpose. Maybe this is just my oversensitive nature because I have been harmed, by so-called great coaches, but I've seen this be very damaging to people and business.

Fully 50% of the people out there are suggestible.

This means that whatever suggestion they get, they believe as true, which is why people think they've been helped even when nothing has changed.  [INTUITION, 2002]

This fact has been proven in many fields from hypnotism to medical tests with placebos.

In some cases, this can be very helpful to people, in other cases harmful.

I prefer it to be a non-decision for me and B\Coaches, therefore the question:

What do you want?

is a question I watch carefully.

I know it is taught in some circles, but NOT in this one.

While there isn't really anything that is not leading (because all interruptions of the quantum field, then affect the field--and in some cases, we have entanglement (or all cases) and you don't have to be in the field), I prefer to take every precaution, when I am hired as a coach to refrain from leading.

When I'm hired to consult, train, advise, mentor, counsel, I may flex this some, as I am being paid to give advise, but when I'm hired as a developmental business coach, I am careful to avoid intentionally leading the client into an area where the client may not have skills to cope.

Again, I'm sure this may seem overly cautious to some, but I've seen what do you want, and the movement in an altered state of pursuing wants and needs--LIVES PEOPLE.

I prefer the person to live out of purpose, not out of needs-driven, moment by moment actions.

[Excuse me all you Nowists, but quite frankly, most people have no capacity for living fully in the present moment, without SIGNIFICANT training over time, including many of you who think you do!]

Until I'm real sure that capability/capacity ratio is sufficient to offset life-conditions in the altered state, I avoid producing them whenever possible.

That doesn't mean that I discourage the client from producing their own altered states, on the contrary, when they do, I get to see what those states produce in the form of thoughts, feelings and behavior and can test them, but I resist producing them for the client by manipulating the client through LOTS OF TECHNIQUES that are floating around out there under a variety of disciplines.

Coaches, STOP MANIPULATING PEOPLE unknowingly!

Ok, I'm sure I gave you a lot longer answer than what you asked for, but hopefully this may be helpful to someone wondering why I take the position I do about leading, manipulation, unduly influencing and producing altered states in client interactions.

There are times and places for these, but in my view, not in business coaching sessions.

Take it with a grain of salt,


*Even though altered states occur in every minute or can...some would argue that reality as perception is an altered state, I would not necessarily disagree, however, I'll take the purposeful state any time in business and life!

Another Question:

At the risk of asking a "duh" question:

After reading and re-reading your reply to the WDYW question, I find myself
very unclear on something:

What does it mean to put the client in an altered state? What have you seen
as an example from some of the coaching sessions you've heard (please don't
reference the WDYW question unless it can be supported with how it puts someone
in an altered state!) ?

Thanks for sharing your thoughts - need to make sure I'm not doing this!

My Answer:

Well, of course this is NOT a duh question.

This question may be the most profound metaphysical question that exists!

I started writing about this about 6 years ago and over time I've gathered additional material from around the world of coaching, consulting, but I don't have time to bring it together, so let me give you the executive summary, if that is possible.

Remember: this is just my opinion at this point.

An altered state is a state which is unsupportable by the person's current ways of being.

We all need these and of course these provide profound experience and connection with everything from ways of doing things different to spiritual awakening.

Yet, I think we need to watch this carefully, here's why.

If someone attempts to function without the appropriate infrastructure of support, they may crash, make bad decisions, or take on things better left until support is further along. Of course, there are all kinds of opinions on this.

HOW it happens:

Through techniques that are very popular today. NLP, Metaphor Elicitation, Appreciative Inquiry, Visualization, Futuring...etc. etc. Almost anyone can induce an altered state at any time.

Chicksentmihi <phonetic spelling>...has studied this for years and named some forms of altered states flow states. Athletes talk about being in the zone. There are many names for these.

Most of the time they are there to help us, yet I see people dropping people into altered states without sufficient testing or probing of the support structure and people end up with low-quality, inefficient decisions.

Look at sales.

People get people to buy things all the time they never use, don't believe me? Look around in your drawers, your house, your garage. Why did you buy them? Altered State. People are trained in this stuff folks, but what is worse, are all those untrained, uninitiated people who are doing in coaching.

I ask the question, what do you want?

You say, a new job?

I say<untrained>, why don't you just go out and get it, you can do it.<oversimplified, but not too much>

The person says, because I've just been waiting for the right moment?

Coach says, don't you think you've waited long enough, if it is that painful?

Person goes home, stews over it, next week, turns in their notice.

The altered state became the the "activation energy" that released the block of concentrated energy (hating the job).

Now, some people would say, it would have happened anyway, some would say, it was the right thing to do, MIKE would say..."I don't want any part of someone's decision about life or business that could shatter their life!"

I like sleeping at night, hence no RAA (responsibility, accountability, or authority) for me regarding a client's outcomes. I DON'T EVEN WANT THAT WITH MY CHILDREN ANYMORE, I want them to make their own decisions.

Therefore, that is the what and the how.

I'm sure all of you can point to similar issues.

My goal as a coach in the above situation might go like this?

I want to quit my job?

What is important?


I hate the work and I feel limited?

What would have to happen for you to be able to quit?


You see, I'm going to test, probe and serve the client in a way that causes the client to build a purpose, a support structure and then move into decision-making consciously, rather than rely on "motivation" through an induced altered state to get someone to take action.

I know the world doesn't always work like that, but as a coach, I have a choice about what I SAY YES TO AND WHAT I SAY NO TO, and I say no to taking RAA with clients. Therefore, what has to happen for me to do that?<G>

Don't induce altered states.

Now, I think I've explained why the What do you Want? question works to cause that....imagine inserting it in the first example?

I induce the state of want, instead of testing what is possible?

Like getting my sights on another job, saving some money up, networking, improving skills, asking for transfer, etc. etc.

What do you want is just unnecessary as a question I need to ask.

If the client learns to ask them the question, fine.

But, then again, I want to see them self-coach like I would coach them around it.

What do I want? (asked by client)

coach = silience? (listen, observe)

Hmmm, that's a good question! (for the client to ask themselves and then to coach around it)

Too much of the time, we ask these types of questions and then find the client in the towards side of their limbic brain where possibilities outweight risk factors and we get action that is unsupported.

Hope that helps,



On The Professional Edge