Who’s in the Room? Questioning Assumptions…

Cathy Presland
4 min readJun 29, 2021


…and making the invisible visible.

Many thanks to cocoparisienne on Pixabay for the image.

Ask, Don’t Assume…

It’s never my role to ‘tell’ clients what to do, or even to offer advice, although sometimes suggestions can loosen the lid of ideation; but to open up their ideas of who they are and what they might not be seeing about themselves and about the people around them and, of course, it’s all for the purpose of ‘the work’ — their work in the world.

There is lots of potential for coaching in those ‘big’ questions, and this,

Who’s in the room…?

is a very simple one that led to a fascinating discussion with a client who is part of a large-scale strategic review of his organisation’s focus.

Asking these questions isn’t a critique or a criticism, but an attempt to reveal that we see the world as it appears to us and we don’t always lift our heads or change our perspectives in ways that might reveal new horizons.

Once revealed, it’s astonishing how quickly someone can take on board something new. Or maybe it isn’t astonishing, because, once something new is seen, a change in behaviour can happen in an instant.

Unconscious Choices Influence Outcomes…

This ‘who’s in the room?’ question was one amongst many that I asked my client in that conversation.

He laughed. A common enough reaction, clients usually laugh when we shine a light in a place they hadn’t thought to look.

Their ‘room’, those involved in the strategic work, was actually quite big relative to how this work is sometimes done (and I make no judgement there on whether ‘more’ is always better.)

But as he thought about he it realised of course, the ‘room’ determines what gets talked about, how it gets talked about, and what assumptions are brought into the strategic review, or indeed any decisions we make.

In this case there was a realisation that expertise mattered, and those in the room had, variably 25 years experience and the benefit of a five minute presentation. Again, not to make one thing more valuable than another, both ‘expertise’ and innocent questioning can play a role in a process, but they are different, and it can pay to be thoughtful about what we are bringing to that process and why.

Make the Invisible Visible…

I don’t ask these questions with an intention to lead or direct or with an outcome in mind — what changes as a result of the exploration is always up to the client. This is the role of coaching (my coaching anyway) — making the invisible visible — but you don’t need a coach to ask yourself the important questions.

If you’re curious about this process, the best place to start is to tune in to the fact of assumptions.

We all have them, our organisations and institutions embed them for us so we don’t need to actively think about them — which can be helpful, of course, but noticing where they show up gives us agency about questioning, challenging or changing them.

Even the imagining of ‘the room’ is an interesting question. I decided to shun the choice of an image of the traditional conference room (or zoom room!) for the acacia tree…

Every little choice we make can have an implication, and while I don’t want us to spend all our time ‘under the tree’, a small shift in the balance between doing and reflecting, the addition of a few minutes of sitting with our assumptions can open up many new routes, all of which might lead in new directions.

The more we see, the more choices we have, and the wider the scope of our potential individual and collective impact.

Get curious about your assumptions, and the assumptions of others.

Understand there are unanswerable questions, and be with them.

Even as you move forward, remain humble about what ripples that creates, and expect to be surprised, always.

With love,


Cathy Presland

Leadership — aka understanding the human dimension of work — for people who are in a professional role, making a dent into poverty, redistribution, dignity, climate change, and other things that aim to rebalance society.

I have additional writing here, including regular leadership seminars here, please join if they resonate, we are very welcoming!

And please contact me directly on pretty much anything related to my work, I enjoy new connections, I think we have so much to learn from each other.

Originally published at https://cathypresland.com on June 29, 2021.



Cathy Presland

What if making an impact was part of your everyday? Stories to light up your soul. Read more and free courses: https://cathypresland.com/