Designing experiments is a way to road-test the assumptions, ideas, and "a-ha's" you and your coachee discuss during a session.
I had my first coaching session this week with a 40-something father of three teen-agers, who has worked in a huge organization for twenty years, with great satisfaction and success. He has a cool new job, which is less than joyful because he now reports to a newly-hired woman whom he describes as "clinical." Whatever he means by that, it doesn't sound good!
His primary goal is to engage with his children, have fun with them, and not be so aloof when he gets home at night.
"What have you told your kids about your new job?" I asked. "Nothing," he stated firmly. "I have a policy to keep work at work. They wouldn't be interested anyway."
I used that assumption to design an experiment. I asked, "Would you be willing to experiment with your own policy? I am not saying it is not a good one--but it may be keeping you from the deeper connection you seek with your kids. You love your work. Yes, your boss drives you crazy, but your job is purposeful, exciting, and a big part of your life. Can you agree to test the assumption that your kids aren't interested?"
The very word "experiment" reduces the fear factor of trying on a new behavior. It makes the change process more playful. If it doesn't work, isn't quite the right way to go--no big deal! It was just an experiment. It either works, or you have more concrete data about what doesn't work. It's a win, no matter the outcome.