“If It Were Me, I Would Have…”



  • When (and how) to step into Observer Mode (00:55)

  • How people react to a self-assigned expert (2:50)

  • How to reset the dynamic with curiosity (5:20)

  • Your turn… (8:25)


Recently, I was with a group of people who I love being around. I respect their opinions and love their interactions. This time, there was a newer business owner in the group who responded to everyone’s comment, shared information, or story with, “What you should have done is…”


I noticed that this repeated behavior felt prickly to me, so I chose to step into Observer Mode – meaning, I took a deep breath, grounded my feet on the floor, and settled into my chair. Then I began watching the interactions as if I were watching a theater production.

I first read about this strategy in The Presence Process by Michael Brown, sometime around 2013. Ever since then, I practice it whenever I feel myself becoming annoyed. It has been a lifesaver for me.

What I love about slipping into Observer Mode (also called Audience Mode) is that I can just be curious – there’s nothing else for me to do – and if I feel an urge to interject or challenge anyone, it just slips away.

After all, if I were to jump up out of my seat at a play and start engaging with the actors, I’d appear a bit unhinged. The same happens when we interject at social gatherings or business meetings based on feeling prickled by someone else’s engagement.

Because of my belief that the greatest work I can do is to increase my self-awareness, the Observer practice I described above is really powerful.


So, as I observed the young man responding with You Should Haves and I Would Haves to comments made within the group’s brisk and hearty casual dialogue, I also noticed a few things that the other people were doing…

Some people chose to defend their actions or decisions, while others chose to withdraw by shutting down, changing the subject, or even shifting their body away from him.

Some people, in turn, responded to his comments with curiosity: “Oh, how did that work out?” or “What did you do next?” or “Oh, wow, what went into that decision?” while the young guy was still quick to say, “You should have…” or “What I would have done was…”

Before too long, the You Should Have Guy was standing in a large group but, clearly, he was in isolation.

Even people standing within 2 or 3 feet of him began to reposition themselves until their backs were turned toward him – just enough to make dialogue difficult. Eye contact was avoided, topics were changed, and small groups of 2 or 3 people were forming in lively, curious dialogue that excluded him.

Had I not gone into Observer Mode, I would have missed such a great lesson. Here are my takeaways:

  • Responding from an expert point of view frequently leads to isolation.

  • Responding with curiosity builds connection.

  • Unless someone directly asks you, “What would you have done in that situation?” I recommend leaving You Should Haves and I Would Haves completely out of it.

  • When you notice that you are feeling isolated within a group – don’t blame the group. Instead, take a moment to check on your own behavior.


As our time wore on, I noticed that the You Should Have Guy had wandered off by himself and was engaging with his phone.

So, I wandered over and asked a curious question, “I heard you say earlier that if you were in that situation, you would have dot-dot-dot. Would you say more about that?”

His eyes perked up, and he became really eager to share his thoughts. As I listened to him, I became more and more curious, and I modeled asking open-ended questions, like: “Wow. I don’t know that I would’ve thought of that. Where did that idea come from?” and “Is this based in your previous experience?”

Slowly, I noticed that others began to get curious also, and they came over to engage. Some even followed my lead and began asking their curious questions.

As if by magic, this young man began to feel the impact. He noticed how he felt isolated from the group earlier, and now he was beginning to feel connection again. As others shared their perspectives, he began to reciprocate with his own curious questions.

Through the dialogue, I could see perspectives shifting, energies finding alignment, commonalities being identified, connections forming, and new ideas being born.

These ideas and solutions didn’t belong to one person, but to the collective. These ideas and solutions were built from curious inquiry.

It was a fascinating experiment for me, and a big opportunity to play and learn more about human interaction and dynamics. Through that experiment, I became acutely aware of times when I went to “You should have…” and “If it were me, I would have...”

But now I know that those kinds of expert statements shut down dialogue, they shut down possibility. They don’t build a foundation from which we can interact and engage to come out with better solutions than we could have on our own.


I invite you to try this through the coming week—

Go into Observer Mode to notice when you feel these words forming in your mind or in your throat: You should have… or I would have… or If it were me…

When you notice those words forming – stop. Then replace them with some kind of curious inquiry, such as: “Wow, that’s fascinating. Would you say more?”

As always, I would love to hear your perspectives as you play with these suggestions and share what you notice.

Until next time,

p.s. If this was helpful to you, or if you like what you read today, I’m asking you to help me spread the word that there is a fun and more engaging way to show up in dialogue, problem-solving, and innovation. Use the Facebook or Twitter icons at the bottom of this page to share this article with your friends and colleagues.