Facilitating your own thinking and that of others is an essential skill in most of our jobs, and not in the least when people are in leadership roles.
Our thinking is hindered and limited in different ways. We have all kinds of biases in our brain. Our emotions often prevent clarity of thinking. Our unconscious incompetence combined with our beliefs about all the things we don’t know anything about, turns our arguments into uninformed opinions and our limit of all the things we can keep in our brain at the same time, leads to massive confusion.
So maybe, and hopefully, learning some skills and using a few tools will make our thinking and that of our teams we lead a little better.
The six thinking hats method - created by Dr. Edward de Bono - is very well known, but often poorly applied. Each thinking hat represents a different thinking style, conceptualised by association with a metaphorical coloured hat.
Participants are all wearing the same hat at the same time during the facilitation process, creating a joined focus of looking at a situation or challenge from different angles or frames of references. This is called parallel thinking. This way you promote looking from different perspectives while avoiding conflicts resulting from the argument and counter-argument between participants. In this process, the participants discover the arguments and counter-arguments together while looking from the same angle.
The six thinking hats match the self-determination theory by Deci and Ryan. The process relies on the competence of every participant. The parallel thinking in the process provides participants with a higher relatedness between each other while they still stay autonomous thinkers at each step of the process. This explains the higher motivation and consequently higher buy-in of the participants in the solutions and outcomes of the six thinking hats process.
Applying the six thinking hats
The method is extensively described in Dr. Edward de Bono’s book “Six thinking hats”, and I highly recommend you read it before you start applying it. If you, like me, like to learn through experimentation, here is a small overview of the method.
The White Hat is focused on the facts and information we have and the information that we are missing.
The Red Hat covers feelings, intuition and gut reactions. It often provides a short stop in the process to get emotional issues out of the way.
The Black Hat makes you look at risks, difficulties and possible problems. This process does not deny their existence by avoiding the word “problem”.
The Yellow Hat looks at benefits, positive effects and values. Even if an idea is not feasible, sometimes it reveals a benefit that we can look for in another more achievable solution.
The Green Hat is the creative focus, the search for new ideas, possibilities, alternatives and ways to overcome difficulties. It’s a divergent hat.
The Blue Hat provides the overview and organisation of the process. It’s where you set the agenda for the meeting, where you decide about the next steps and a marking point for where you are right now.
There are some basic rules of the game as well:
A possible sequence - involving all hats - could be:
Blue Hat: to set the focus of the meeting, and explain the sequence
White Hat: explain the facts and information about a particular situation
Red Hat: a small poll into how people feel about the situation
Green Hat: generate ideas to deal with the situation
Yellow Hat: a look at the benefits of each idea. Ideas without benefits might get filtered out.
Black Hat: identifying possible risks. Ideas where the risks don’t match the rewards might get filtered out.
White Hat: matching the remaining ideas with the actual data about the situation.
Blue Hat: make a decision about the route to take.
Each hat can be combined with other problem solving or facilitation tools and techniques. You could use all kinds of creativity techniques during the Green Hat or business analysis tools during the White Hat. The method allows lots of space for experimentation, which requires on the other hand good facilitation skills.
So where is the value?
There is plenty of evidence in scientific literature for the value of thinking skills as well as facilitation skills when it comes to leadership. The six thinking hats method will develop both.
The first time it takes a small effort to learn and apply the method, and I suggest you start practising with a small team of colleagues you know well. From that, you gain experience and can apply six thinking hats in different scenarios like decision making or problem solving. I’ve used the method to facilitate board meetings, as well as retrospective meetings of agile teams. I’ve used it as a tool helping to learn through different perspectives, both to structure course material when I train students or as a tool for the student to absorb the learnings. As an individual I’ve even used the six thinking hats method to structure my own critical thinking for university assignments (I’m a lifelong learner).
Do contact me for any questions or if you would want more information. Marc Innegraeve is a Certified Blue Hat Facilitator, trained by de Bono.
Aithal, P. S., & Kumar, P. M. (2017). Ideal Analysis for Decision Making in Critical Situations through Six Thinking Hats Method. International Journal of Applied Engineering and Management Letters (IJAEML), 1(2), 1-9.
Aithal, P. S., & Kumar, P. M. (2017b). Integrating Theory A and Six Thinking Hats Technique for Improved Organizational Performance. International Journal of Applied Engineering and Management Letters (IJAEML), 1(2), 66-77.
APTT (1999). Edward de Bono’s six thinking hats. US: The McQuaig Group Inc.
de Bono E. (1985). Six thinking hats. US: Little, Brown and Company
Deci, E. L., and Ryan, R. M. (2008). Self-determination theory: A macrotheory of human motivation, development, and health. Canadian psychology/Psychologie canadienne, 49(3), 182.
Vernon, D. and Hocking, I. (2014). Thinking hats and good men: structured techniques in a problem construction task. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 14. pp. 41- 46. ISSN 1871-1871.
Robert Cialdini, author of Pre-Suasion, describes to Inc. president Eric Schurenberg the most important factors for influencing people.
High performing leaders have high emotional intelligence, so it should come as no surprise than improving your emotional intelligence will make you a better leader.
Goleman (1998) discovered when studying the competence models of 188 large, global companies, that 90% of the difference between star performers and average performers in senior leadership positions could be attributed to Emotional Intelligence factors rather than cognitive abilities. A 360-degrees leadership performance study of 358 managers assessed by more than 1400 participants within Johnson & Johnson, confirms that the highest performing managers have significantly more Emotional Intelligence than other managers (Cavallo & Brienza, 2001).
The basic model of Emotional Intelligence has 5 components, of which 3 components relate to managing yourself and 2 relate to managing others. To manage yourself, you need self-awareness, self-regulation and motivation. To manage others, you need empathy and social skill (Henry, 2006).
Your self-awareness is your ability to recognize and understand your moods, emotions and drives, as well as their effect on others. Self-regulation is your ability to control or redirect impulses and moods, and your ability to think before acting. Motivation is your passion to work for reasons that go beyond money or status, it’s what is often called intrinsic motivation. Empathy is your skill in understanding and treating people according to their emotional reactions. Your social skills are how proficient you are in managing relationships and building networks. (Goleman 1998, Henry 2006)
You don’t improve emotional intelligence by reading a book, it requires a different type of learning (Goleman, 2016). And though it only takes 4 steps, improving your emotional intelligence is hard work and takes time:
Step 1: Ask for feedback
There are several questionnaires, some 360°-based, to evaluate your emotional intelligence. But even without these quantitative questionnaires, you could easily ask a few of your colleagues to answer five questions about you to give you already a qualitative insight:
Step 2: Choose 1 domain to work on
Improving can be hard work, and you will get a better grip on this if you focus on just one domain at a time. There are different ways to approach this, but 2 of them really stand out:
Step 3: Develop a learning plan
This is the most challenging step, because it is very idiosyncratic. There is no recipe book for what to do precisely. It’s clear that if you would want to increase your self-awareness, that assessing your emotions on a regular basis will help. Or that taking deliberate pauses before action will increase your self-regulation. Here are some tips to set up your learning plan.
Step 4: Practice, practice, practice
It’s obvious that practice is an essential activity when you want to change habits. It’s important to integrate this practice in every aspect of your life, and to combine it with your journaling. The benefit of keeping a daily journal is that your practice will become more effective and it reduces the chances of practicing the wrong or unproductive habits.
Making use of a coach can make this learning process even more effective. A good coach can help you starting from the first step. He can help you set up a more complete feedback questionnaire, support you in your choice of domain to work on and develop a learning plan together with you. When you practice a new habit, a coach can follow you in your development, keep you on the right track and support you in developing different exercises as you evolve in your skills.
Improving your emotional intelligence requires effort and takes time, but it’s a path worthwhile taking, certainly if your job has important emotional components. Talentsmart found that people with a high degree of emotional intelligence make an average of $29,000 more per year compared to people with a low degree of Emotional Intelligence. That is worth an investment.
Cavallo K. and Brienza D. (2001). Emotional Competence and Leadership Excellence at Johnson & Johnson: The emotional Intelligence and Leadership Study. Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations: http://www.eiconsortium.org/reports/jj_ei_study.html (accessed January 2nd, 2019)
Goleman, D. (1998) ‘How to be become a leader’, in Henry (2001). Creative Management, 2nd edn, London: Sage.
Goleman D. (2016). Five steps to increase emotional intelligence. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/five-steps-develop-emotional-intelligence-daniel-goleman/ (accessed on January 2nd, 2019)
Henry J. (2006). Creativity, cognition and development. Milton Keynes: The Open University
Unknown (unknown). About Emotional Intelligence. Talentsmart: http://www.talentsmart.com/about/emotional-intelligence.php (Accessed on December 27th, 2018)
Coaching is a conversation between coach and coachee where both work together so that the coachee can take future-oriented action to enhance life experience, attain goals, learn and enhance performance in their professional and/or personal life. While the coach facilitates some kind of change or transformation within the coachee, it is the coachee who has to do the work. Essential to the coaching process is that the coachee grants permission to the coach to coach the coachee.
The coach facilitates the coaching process to support the coachee in:
There are different types of coaching, skills coaching, performance coaching, developmental coaching and generative coaching. Skills coaching is oriented towards the development of skills, for example communication skills, presentation skills or sales skills. In performance coaching the coach and coachee focus on setting goals, overcoming obstacles and evaluating and increasing performance. Developmental coaching deals with personal and professional development issues, and is characterised by moments of insight and developing emotional competencies. Generative coaching is dealing with becoming self-reliant and building skills to deal with future issues through flexibility, adaptability and the capacity to self-transformation.
Although there is a rising demand for coaches, there is very few research on the effectiveness of coaching or its different approaches. There are some studies demonstrating increase in productivity, other studies show that training combined with coaching has better results than training on its own. Some studies show positive effects on stress. As coaching processes are conversation based, and results are often subjective, more research is needed but very difficult.
Most people who perform at peak performance level, make use of a coach. I would go further with a quote from Dr. Ken Blanchard, author of the One Minute Manager: “It doesn’t matter how successful we are, we all need a coach.”
Increasing influence, gaining more impact and convincing people is an important skill in many fields. Influence increases your impact within the organization, it helps you convincing customers to buy your products, or it helps you to encourage people to do the right thing in health and safety or in environment issues.
A lot of research has been done on how to influence people, resulting in very different approaches and viewpoints. These approaches can compliment each other, enabling you as a reader to get a broader view. One of the important reasons why we come across such different theories about influence is because they often start from different use cases.
One set of principles of influence that appears again and again in different formats, is the set of 6 influence heuristics that were first described by Cialdini. The use case there is the broadest possible, influence in everything you do, which makes it more difficult to find out how you can apply these 6 principles in your particular case. One example is the TEDx presentation by Steve Martin – not the actor – about influence at work. In his presentation he chooses one of the 6 heuristics, the one of social proof, and extensively illustrates how people are influenced by the reaction and behaviour of others, and generally deny that they are. In his presentation he describes how his own experiments with the social proof strategy demonstrate which type of communication works best in encouraging behaviour – “The majority of people …” – and in prevention of behaviour – “Even if one person would …”.
This is very different from the theories that go deeper into applying influence. One Harvard Business Review article about how experts can increase their impact on top management describes very specific skills to develop based upon the successful and not so successful experiences of risk management experts in two banks in the UK. The four important skills are first identifying important business issues where you could apply your expertise. It means that you will have to go and talk to people that you usually do not have contact with. Second, you have to start developing and deploying tools that embed your expertise. Third, you involve people throughout the organisation in the development and usage of your tools. This way you develop collaboration and create allies throughout the organisation to support your impact. The fourth skill is to go out and help the important decision makers to understand the complex content so they can make better decisions. Your impact comes from making complex subjects easier to understand and translating technical jargon into understandable business language.
How can all this help you to gain more influence. First of all, it is clear that you need to have a grasp of the general concepts of influence, and the starting point there is the work of Cialdini. His book Influence has many examples, but may be hard to apply in your particular case. Then look for those studies that describe influence in your particular context, like sales or customer service or whatever it is. Once you are familiar with the work of Cialdini, you will probably recognise the principles in the more specific applications. This will give you the examples upon which you can eventually develop your own set of practical influencing tools that fit your needs.
Do you have the feeling that you are talking a different language than your team does? You might be right. But did you know that your team probably have the impression that you are doing your corporate presentations in Latin? Because to them, maybe you are.
Getting your message across is important in business and especially in communicating change to your people. But facts and figures are often difficult for everyone to understand. Hard data needs interpretation and is often difficult to remember. People need clear messages that are easy to understand and reach their hearts and minds. This is where metaphors become useful.
July 1988, a huge explosion turns the oil rig Piper Alpha in a ball of flame and smoke and splits the rig in 2 pieces. 166 People, including 2 rescuers, died in the disaster, but miraculously 63 crew members survived. One of the survivors, Andy Mochan, a superintendent on the rig, was interviewed in the hospital and said: “It was fry or jump, so I jumped.” Jumping off the burning platform saved his life. It became the metaphor that has been used often in business communication to indicate the sense of urgency leading to the need for change.
Skilled leaders use metaphors to encourage visual thinking. When metaphors are well chosen, they are easy to understand, and they make the message behind it more acceptable. The right story also makes it easy for people to connect emotionally to the upcoming changes in the organization.
I would recommend against using metaphors where you try to have a one-on-one relationship between the metaphor and the situation. For example, where a family with 3 children is represented by a captain, a mate and 3 sailors. In NLP, we call these isomorphic metaphors. Those communications often come across as fake and obnoxious. It’s a lot better to use real stories of similar situations that takes people onto an emotional journey and helps the listener to reach solutions on the emotional level. These we call homomorphic metaphors.
A good metaphor explains a situation and its’ solution in simple terms and is built upon imagery that people can connect with.
This means that you, as a communicator, better start collecting real stories that will help you in different situations and the place to start is your own experience. Is there anything more credible than the hurdles and situations that you’ve conquered (or didn’t conquer) yourself? If you worry about your own vulnerability when you disclose your own experience, remember that this is exactly how you can build trust with your team.
Give a boy a hammer and the whole world becomes a nail. In the same way, metaphors should become a tool in your portfolio of communication skills, but not the only tool. Metaphors are a contributing element in corporate storytelling and narratives. Good metaphors have a longer lifespan than just one presentation and can even be part of the culture of an organization, a department or your team. Choose them wisely!
By Xavier Pirla Llorens
NLP stands for Neuro Linguistic Programming, and it has been sold for the last 40 years as almost a wonder tool. But what exactly is NLP? Why has it become so popular? Is it a good tool for a corporate environment?
NLP’s reputation comes for its power to understand human behaviour. Since the beginning of the 20th century when companies began to understand humans as something more than an extension of the mechanical work force, psychology played an increasing role.
NLP has offered a way to improve that the understanding of human behaviour in a very distinctive way that was not always well understood, in fact.
One of our brain’s functions is to gather information, to group it and to label it, that’s why we tend to say that so and so is X or is Y. We want to categorise what is around us for a better understanding.
A lot of people use NLP in that way but that is wrong. I understood it when I began to study NLP. As an engineer, I see the world in terms of processes and systems. This is the same view as the father of NLP, Dr. Richard Bandler, an IT engineer.
NLP doesn’t categorise people or put them into boxes. NLP focuses in the mental and emotional process that drives human behaviours.
It does it a very analytical way. For example, let’s say that you have an employee that is disengaged from his work. NLP wouldn’t label him/her but it would find how that particular person (not using a general rule) is experiencing reality and what he/she makes in her mind in order to not feel the necessary drive to perform.
A lot of my clients ask for quick fixes to pervasive situations. Real professional NLP doesn’t do quick fixes. My trainings give analytical tools to the attendants to explore and understand the inner world of the employee.
In this way, they can understand for example, if the employee feels like he/she is being neglected, feeling a lack of acknowledgement from his/her managers or maybe a lack of trust judging by the level of jobs being assigned to him/her.
But it is too tempting to simplify NLP saying that you can put people in boxes so you know how to manage them. That’s not real NLP. NLP is about understanding the complexity of the human brain and developing strategies to deal with it.
NLP is a very powerful tool for salesmen, leaders or anyone interacting with others as it allows a better understanding of the reason for behaving in a certain way and so, how to find ways to improve the situation.
It can be difficult to demonstrate the financial return of investments in soft skills training, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) being one of the top options available for learning these skills. Oddly enough, people often use exactly those skills to try to convince you that NLP isn’t the right choice and even use NLP to persuade you that you shouldn’t learn NLP. Anyway, it’s a lot more useful to consider the facts.
There are plenty of successful business examples of the use of NLP. When financial credit institution Diners Club increased the NLP skills of their customer service managers, they reduced their loss of clients with 67% and their clients spent on average 254% more. (Alder, 2002)
International companies like BMW, Fiat, Virgin, BT and many others invested in NLP training for their employees. In Belgium, shoe retailer Torfs, hair dressing chain Kreatos as well as paints producer, Boss Paints, are known advocates of applying NLP in various parts of their business. (De Standaard, 2016; Tertio; a.o.)
The effectiveness of applying NLP will be even greater when companies carefully plan how they will apply NLP in their business environment. Diners Club is a clear example of focusing the application of NLP on improving customer communication. BMW UK used NLP to model the behavior of their top 1% sales, so they could educate the rest of their sales staff on the successful strategies. American Express and Fiat used NLP to improve and spread formal and informal leadership throughout the company. They model successful leaders, teach their staff how to ask better questions, gain bigger insight in people, manage emotions and much more. (Alder, 2002)
The big question is this.
How do you make sure that we provide the pay-off to you and your company?
The answer is easy. Before you register for our course, ask yourself the following important questions.
Trust me, courses are a lot more effective and a lot more fun with the right participants, so we don’t want people in our course who don’t belong here.
What problem am I trying to solve or what opportunity do I want to pursue when I attend this course? Is this a problem worth solving or an opportunity worth pursuing? What is the right solution this problem or opportunity? Are you (or the person you are sending to us) the right person to solve this problem?
What are the objectives that I want to achieve from this course?
Learning objectives: What do I want to learn?
Development objectives: How do I want to behave different after the course?
Application objectives: Where do I want to be able to apply what I’ve learned? What do I want to do differently with what I’ve learned?
Impact objectives: What new results do I want to achieve by applying what I’ve learned?
How will you evaluate your return on investment? What objectives will you evaluate and how will you evaluate this objective?
Now that you have answered these questions, is this course in alignment with your needs, your resources and your expectations?
Let’s use these questions to evaluate a typical example. Sophie has just been promoted from an expert role into a management role. At this moment things are looking great for her, but she feels unsure whether her people management skills are sufficient for the job. As people management has become an important part of her job, Sophie thinks this is a problem worth solving.
Sophie had several conversations with us, went through our information package in detail and set some key objectives for herself.
Learning objectives: gain better insight in people, increase communication and influencing skills, ask better questions
Reaction objectives: feel more confident as a manager of her team, management becomes easy instead of a daily struggle
Application objectives: having difficult conversations, improving presentations, better grip on day-to-day management situations, convince difficult people in a positive and constructive way
Impact objectives: more people get along with her and follow instructions, team meetings become more effective and efficient, team performance indicators improve
Fortunately, we could accommodate for Sophie’s needs and through our practitioner course she could attain her objectives and much more. Since Sophie attended the course, she got enlisted in the high potential program of her organization. The course not only changed her professional life for the better, it also positively changed the way she could manage her private-work balance. At the time of writing, both Sophie and her husband are expecting their first baby, another life changing experience.
So make sure that you thoroughly evaluate your reasons for booking on the course so that when you arrive on day one you’ll know exactly what your target is. One more thing … after all that analysis, make sure you also remember to enjoy the course.
Not so long ago, Tom, one of the executives I coach, told me he had a problem with one of his staff members, Alan. (*) In Tom’s perception, Alan had difficulties setting priorities. Not knowing Alan at all, I had to disagree with Tom. What Tom really meant was that Alan’s priorities did not match his.
You can’t function without priorities, you always have to do something first, even if you do nothing at all. So how does this work?
First, in your unconscious rulebook for setting priorities, is your values. Values determine the sequence in which you take action. Unfortunately, most people get values wrong. Often, they have read the wonderful 7 habits book by Stephen Covey, and think they can decide which values to have. That’s not how it works. The values that you choose in those exercises are your noble view on who you would like to be, but the underlying truth is very different. We spend quite some time on our Licensed Master Practitioner training to teach our students how to find out what your real unconscious values are. Values are the first hurdle where things go wrong, because at work we play DJ with no less than 6 potentially different sets of values:
Our own unconscious set of values – who we are
Our preferred set of values – who we want to be
The values our company wants us to have – who the organization wants us to be
The real values of our company – how the organization really behaves
The unconscious set of values of our boss – who our boss really is
The preferred set of values of your boss – who your boss wants to be
No wonder Alan gets confused about his priorities, especially when there are big gaps between those sets of values.
And this is only the first step, priorities are not everything. Alan also needs the skills to execute a particular task, and – equally important – believe that he has this skill and believe that it is possible to do it.
But let’s continue to focus on priorities. There is still another system that can mess up our priorities, and that system is driven by your emotions. If stress or anxiety takes over, values will not help Alan. His priorities will be taken over by the unconscious mechanisms that try to reduce stress. The unconscious falls back to habits that the unconscious believes to be the answer to stress: eating, spending time on Facebook, cleaning out the email inbox, taking a cigarette break etc. To the outside world, it will look like Alan is distracted and wasting time, while Alan is trying to do what is currently most important to his system: reducing stress.
So how can Tom deal with all of this so that he gets Alan to execute his tasks in alignment with the needs and strategy of the company?
First thing is to find out what’s important to Alan in his work. This will give you some information on Alan’s intrinsic values, as well as some indicators on what might potentially stress Alan. I showed Tom some conversation techniques and meta-model questions to use.
Second thing is to make sure that Alan has a grip on his stress. There are two things that Tom can do here. One is to make sure that he does not unnecessarily put high stress on Alan. Second is to provide opportunity to Alan to better manage his stress, e.g. through stress management courses, provide sporting facilities at work etc. It is, however, Alan who needs to gain control over his emotions. This means that when Tom has put everything in place, it is still Alan who needs to take the initiative.
Third thing that Tom can do is to make sure that he is as clear as possible about what it is that he wants to achieve. Identify where he and his team are now with regards to this objective and how exactly Alan can contribute to get the team closer to their goals.
And those 3 things are exactly what Tom did. He had his conversation with Alan so that he had a better understanding of his motives, needs and values. It gave Tom the indirect feedback on how to better manage Alan. Tom also organized several sessions for his team on how to deal with stress and agreed with HR to negotiate a special discount with a local fitness club for all employees of his company. In addition, the company pays half of the subscription fee. Tom also increased his communication efforts towards the whole team. He does spend a lot more time preparing his communications, but according to Tom the effects are worth it.
(*) Names have been changed for reasons of confidentiality.