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6 Thinking Hats – A Great Coaching Framework

Posted by Sandeep Jain, ACC | December 10, 2020 | Comments (5)

Coaching may seem like a structured process from the outside, but coaches know that when we are in the middle of a session, we need to be spontaneous and willing to experiment. We never know what could help our clients find a way around their self-limiting beliefs. Evoking awareness in a coaching client is never a very straightforward process; we all learn to use multiple tools and techniques as we sharpen our skills as a coach.

One such framework which I deploy has its inspiration in Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats, which finds applications in creativity, critical thinking and decision-making. The concept is more applicable in group settings where each person wears a different colored hat to ensure that various aspects of a challenge are discussed. With practice, I learned that I can use the same concept when I am thinking on my own (self-coaching) or when I am helping a client think through a problem.

The effectiveness of Six Thinking Hats hinges on the idea that each hat represents a unique perspective and distinct thinking style, but when viewed holistically, all the hats together help you take a very exhaustive look at the situation being examined. As a coach, when you symbolically wear each of these hats, they serve as a reminder for you to support your client to see multiple perspectives about the challenge at hand.

Let’s take a closer look at what each hat represents.

White Hat

This hat focuses on the available context. Wear this hat to help your client discover the information they already have, take stock of past trends and see what story it reveals. Note any gaps and gently provoke your client to be aware of these gaps as well as to understand if and how they want to close them. For example, you might ask:

  • What do you currently know about this situation?
  • How often does this happen?
  • What triggers this?
  • What do you not yet know about this situation?

Red Hat

The red hat is the emotional perspective. It is about intuition and gut – emotions that churn up in the client when they think of the challenge. It is also about empathy and understanding how others who are or may be affected by this challenge in the future might react emotionally. For example, you might ask:

  • How do you feel about your current situation?
  • What kind of emotions does it trigger?
  • How do others feel about this situation? How will they feel once you achieve the desired outcome?
  • What kind of emotional support do you need to start tackling this challenge? Who can provide that support?

Black Hat

This one is about evaluating  potentially negative outcomes. This perspective highlights the possibility that things may not go your way. It is best to be aware of these so that your client is better equipped to eliminate, avoid or alter these. Getting your client to think from this perspective helps them spot flaws and risks and become more resilient for the road ahead. You might ask:

  • What are some reasons why you may not succeed?
  • How can you reduce the associated risks of failure?
  • What is a good way to ensure that any tough luck encountered with this challenge doesn’t spill over to other areas?

Yellow Hat

This hat is the optimistic perspective; it helps you see the positive benefits of the decision or the desired outcome. With this perspective, you can generate a feeling of optimism in your client and give them the confidence to achieve their goal and help them think how and why it’s worth the effort. Some sample questions:

  • What does success look like to you?
  • Imagine you have already achieved the desired outcome and you are looking back. What is the advice that you would give to your present self?
  • Who, besides yourself, is going to be the most delighted with you having achieved the desired outcome?

Green Hat

The green hat is about creativity. It’s where you develop creative solutions to a problem and think outside the box. In a team coaching setting, this could be brainstorming, question storming and brain-swarming.  In an individual context, this is about using creative tools such as metaphors, empty chairs, mentor’s table, colors, art, or nature to help your client leverage their right-side brain.

Blue Hat

Last but not least, this hat is about process control, where you move from one perspective to another and put on each “hat” as necessary. The blue hat reminds us that we need to use all the hats to have a 360-degree view of the challenge. It is also a reminder that when we’re stuck, we need to change the hat that we are wearing to access a new perspective.

© 2020 by Sandeep Jain, Value-Unlocked

sandeep jain headshot

Sandeep Jain, ACC

Sandeep Jain, ACC, spent 25+ years in various finance and business leadership roles across Asia Pacific, and he is now based in India, working as a strategy consultant and Leadership Coach, while also mentoring startups. He is a chartered accountant and a Certified Internal Auditor by qualification, and he has pursued various executive management education programs. Sandeep is an ICF Credentialed-coach Member, a Marshall Goldsmith certified coach, an NLP practitioner and a certified Hogan assessor. His firm Value-Unlocked partners with organizations and people to help them own change and create a better version of themselves.

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts featured on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the International Coach Federation (ICF). The publication of a guest post on the ICF Blog does not equate to an ICF endorsement or guarantee of the products or services provided by the author.

Comments (5)

  1. Sudha Krishnan says:

    A very useful tool I must say to use in a coaching context both in individual and team coaching. Grateful to Sandeep for sharing this and the valuable questions that can be asked.

  2. Sung Hee Han says:

    Great way to reframe questions for clients :-). Thank you for sharing.

  3. nadezda.klimova@gmail.com says:

    It’s interesting how the borders between different areas are blending. I have heard about this tool 5 years ago at Business Analysis training 🙂

    Thank you for providing me with new perspective on application of this tool in terms of coachin!

  4. ipek@conscientstrategies.com says:

    I love how you connected this great book to coaching. I will use it in group/team coaching. Thank you!

  5. rajneeshmathur14@gmail.com says:

    Great application of the 6 Thinking Hats in the area of individual and team coaching. Thank you for the brilliant coaching questions suggested in the article.

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