Have you ever experienced the frustration of trying to get everyone in your meeting on the same page? According to business consultant Edward de Bono, each meeting participant tends to favor a specific style of thinking. Depending on the topic, they might focus more on facts, possibilities, or negatives. Your meetings can be more productive and less stressful with this simple method that gets everyone to think using the same style.
Let’s say you’re in a meeting about budget cuts. Sandra from the operations department has a rational, unbiased point of view and suggests budget cuts for the advertising department. James from advertising responds emotionally: the advertising department is already understaffed — why did Sandra single out his department?
The problem with group problem-solving is that you can’t always know the thought process of others. This can be especially elusive in a virtual meeting, where you can’t always “read the room”. As people react to comments, details may be omitted or forgotten.
Aligning thought styles
Edward de Bono believes problem-solving meetings are more productive when all participants use the same thinking style at the same time. Called Six Thinking Hats, his method is based on six styles of thought, which he identifies with corresponding colored “hats.” When you use one thinking style, you’re said to be wearing that hat.
Six Thinking Hats achieves many things that the average meeting must otherwise grapple with – such as separating fact from opinion, validating each individual’s feelings, and brainstorming possibilities without limitations. It’s a great equalizer that can help you avoid poor decision-making by eliminating bias toward one style of thinking.
The white hat doesn’t assume anything, nor does it get emotionally involved. It is associated with logic and deals strictly with data, facts, and information. In our budget-meeting example, white-hat participants would look for data about departments with the most growth, figures showing where budget cuts came from in the past, or percentages of the budget currently devoted to each department. Opinions about which departments need the most money would not be white-hat appropriate.
Red Hat: share your feelings
Opposite the white hat is the red hat. It is concerned with feelings and intuition, because no decision is made without a feeling that it’s right. Wearing the red hat, James might say, “I feel disappointed in the proposed budget for travel.” Because the entire group is wearing the red hat, no one can invalidate his feeling. The red hat protects the feelings and gut instincts of those who might otherwise be criticized for involving emotions in the discussion.
Green: get creative
The green hat encourages participants to explore possibilities. Money, time, and resources are not up for discussion until later. Wearing the green hat, members can come up with alternative methods; if the current way isn’t working, all ideas are on the table. Invoke the green hat when the group gets stuck. No idea is stupid, so give it your best effort then let loose with whatever comes to mind.
Black Hat: be careful
Where the green hat sees a clear path to a brilliant idea, the black hat puts up a roadblock and says, “wait a minute.” it is used for exercising caution — for thinking why an idea might not work. The black hat plays a protective role, keeping the group from making a decision they may regret. James might say, “If we cut the advertising budget, we might need to cut our staff, and we’re already understaffed for our workload.” The black hat isn’t a negative mindset – it’s a risk-assessment tool.
Yellow Hat: embrace the possibilities
The viral song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams would be the perfect theme for the yellow hat. Yellow looks at the bright side of things and considers how a plan would be feasible. In contrast to the black hat, the yellow hat tries to make it work. While the group wears the yellow hat, they look at the value and benefits of an idea. Sandra might say, “Cutting the advertising budget would keep us from having to cut other areas.”
Blue Hat: clarify intentions
The blue hat keeps the other hats focused, identifying problems and goals. Every Six Thinking Hats exercise begins and ends with the blue hat. In the beginning, blue hat thinking sets the stage for problem-solving; in the end, it summarizes and makes conclusions. The blue hat determines which hat to use for a meeting, and it keeps everyone using the same hat.
Try the Six Think Hats
This method may seem unnatural at first, even awkward. You’re used to just thinking — not thinking about how you’re thinking! Focusing on one thinking style at a time may be just what you need for solving tough problems.
Six Hats can be particularly useful when problem-solving via video conference. Though separated by distance, participants may feel more like they’re in the same room when they’re all wearing the same hat.
So share this post with the participants before your next videoconference. Then have a little fun trying on each hat during your meeting. You may be pleasantly surprised with the results.