This article was originally written by Michael Hall - gently edited by The Coaching Room
To coach is to enable clients to think critically. To coach is to help people look at their own lives, their thinking, reasoning, and decision-making with a healthy skepticism so that they can be more objective about their choices. Given that, no wonder then that this is one of the chief reasons that the primary tool for coaching is questioning. We ask questions to help clients think things through, gain a larger level perspective, and run quality control checks on their lives.
Of course all of this presupposes that you as a Meta-Coach know how to engage in high quality critical thinking and can enable your clients to do the same. Do you? Here’s one way to test yourself—how quickly do you jump into problem-solving? How much does a problem-statement from a client activate you into trying to figure out how to solve it? The quicker you go into problem-solving, the weaker your critical thinking skills.
Does that surprise you? Yes, while critical thinking skills will definitely help you to become more skilled and able to engage in effective problem-solving, jumping into solving a problem before you have clearly defined the problem undermines all of that. A critical thinker does not jump into solving things without first taking the time to define the problem, the context, and the system. Those who do that often end up “solving” the wrong problem or a pseudo-problem.
Want more about that? Then get the book Creative Solutions (2016). There I present four applications of the Neuro-Semantic Precision Template. You already know the Well-Formed Outcome and if you’ve been to the Creativity and Innovation Workshop, you know about the others— the well-formed problem, solution, and innovation. Each of these Precision Templates is designed to help you think more thoroughly and critically about these aspects of problem-solving and therefore to engage in critical thinking.
To think critically is to explore what a client presents from an open-minded, curious, and skeptical place. It involves the NLP know-nothing state and it also involves the “lose your mind and come to your senses” state (Perls). Then, given these states, it entails you being able to representationally track what is said to the theatre of your mind without adding anything. Doing all of that keeps the information clean and uncontaminated.
Jumping to problem-solving is one indicator that you are not engaging in high quality critical thinking. There are other signs. Central to them is the inability to ask distinction questions. These are the questions that you ask given your understanding and expertise in the discipline of “coaching,” which thereby enables you to help clients make critical distinctions. These are the kinds of questions that saves you from the trouble of needing to teach or consult with clients. Instead, you can ask these kinds of questions in a Socratic way so that they discover the distinctions. To do that reveals that you can think critically. To not be able to do that means that you are still at a beginner’s level.
Another indicator, and a distinction question at the same time, is your ability to separate the subject of the coaching session from the outcome. These are not the same. The first one is a very general idea of the topic or subject of the coaching and the second is a much more detailed outcome or result that the client wants to achieve. The first questions of the well-formed outcome help you identify the subject (Questions 1-6). The next set of questions, when you work them well, enable you to help refine a more specific and well-formed outcome (Questions 7-15).
Ultimately, critical thinking is high quality thinking that enables people to make good use of their intelligence. It is thinking that aims for clarity, precision, and accuracy— key qualities of good thinking. Yet it is more. A healthy critical thinker is able to step back from her thinking in order to think-about-one’s thinking. And it is via this meta-thinking that a person can gain enough perspective to alter one’s way of thinking. Now a person no longer needs to remain stuck in the kind of thinking that’s creating problems or inefficiency. Now a person can step back from one’s thinking to choose better ways to think.
You learned the first part of this kind of thinking (thinking that’s clear, precise, and accurate) when you learned the Meta-Model. You learned the second part of this kind of thinking (thinking-about your thinking) when you learned the Meta-States Model. No wonder then, that as a Meta-Coach you have the training that should enable you to be fully ready and able to help your clients engage in high quality critical thinking. Now while you’ve had the training but you may still not fully know how to do that. Yet if you are committed to yourself, your ongoing development, and to the Meta-Coaching system, then you will get there. It’s just a matter of time.