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Two Hat Thinking

In the mid-80s, psychologist Edward De Bono took on the topic of group discourse in Six Thinking Hats, a book that used a metaphor of six colored hats to describe thinking modalities. By understanding these, he contended, groups could work and think together more effectively.

The essence of his communication strategy comes down to this:

Hat #1 – mine

Hat #2 – 6 – yours and everyone else’s.

And here is the process:

1) Be comfortable in your hat

2) Imagine yourself the other’s hat

3) Wash, rinse, repeat

Basic, right?  Almost too basic to be practical?  Not at all.

The objective is to focus your thinking about any business engagement on what’s in it for you AND for everyone else at the table. Asking the What’s In It For Everyone question first, then driving to the logical end to solve the Win/Win equation empowers you to think with another’s hat more productively.

Win/Win strategies are always mentioned in companies, acquisitions, contract negotiations, and almost any other meeting between two parties.  Sadly, it’s almost always lip service.  So let’s get practical about how you can achieve real Win/Win outcomes in your interactions.

Step 1

Put your hat on and check this list:

  1. Define your core needs and the reasons you are meeting

  2. Determine what your absolute limits and when you will simply walk away

  3. Define your minimum win level

Write these down.  Communicate them to your team.  Remind everyone that if you hit #2 there is a code for you to gracefully step away.  If you hit #3, there is another code or sign to indicate whether you will continue or take your winnings.  Never leave these two aspects of your negotiations up to chance.  If it’s just you and another person, you should be no less diligent.

Step 2

Put on their hat and follow the steps above.  Imagine exactly what they need and want to feel accomplished, save face, and/or win.  Look hard and long at your assumptions and check them again and again to cover as many scenarios as you can.  When this is done, you can compare your two lists and determine how close or far you are in the original assumptions.  Remember, anyone can be irrational and do very unproductive and counterintuitive things.  Even if it’s against the other parties best interest.  So with that border constraint, you can at least be prepared to test your assumptions fully.

Success comes from the KISS principle.  Keep it simple stupid.  But not taking the time to test your hypothesis or motivations leaves you open to risky and often bad outcomes.  We do this in our interpersonal relationships, so it’s no surprise to see it in our business relationships.  Using management theories that capture exceptions after exception over look the most basic interactions between people.  The win/win.

So why do we have so many complex management theories when it’s really as simple as this?  Good question, but don’t dwell on that.  Get to work today and put on your hat first, read solid books like 6 Hat Thinking, and get to work on the next.  Who knows, it all might just fall into place now.

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