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How to help others with their thinking


5 ways to help others with their thinking.


“Help one another; there's no time like the present and no present like the time.” - James Durst


Every day there are opportunities to make a difference by helping others with their thinking.

This can be as much, if not more help than taking on a task for them. It could be helping them get out of a rut, solve a problem or come up with new ideas. It might save them loads of time and relieve pressure if they’ve been stuck and not sure where to go next.

The actions you take are based on the quality or effectiveness of your thinking. Those actions will then determine the results you get. Therefore, it makes sense that to take better actions that will get you different or better results, you need to start with your thinking. Likewise, you can have the same impact on others. Help them with their thinking and they’ll take different or more effective actions, greatly increasing the likelihood of an improved outcome. So, you can have a big impact, probably more than you realise, just by making some time to help others with their thinking.

  • For more "Ways to think in a solution focused way" take a read of our previous article here.


Here are five ways you can help others to think more effectively;


1. Ask high quality questions

What is a high quality question? Put simply, it's a question that will help someone move forward with their thinking. It will do one of two things. It will either help to focus the mind or engage the imagination. Focusing the mind will help to get clarity, decide next steps or commit to a plan. Engaging the imagination is about opening the mind to new ideas and possibilities.

The trick is for you to ask others better questions than they are asking themselves. When someone is stuck or has got a problem, decide the best type of questions to ask. Do they need clarity, do they need more ideas or maybe both? Thinking about this will help you to work out the best question at that specific time. You can gauge if it is working if you notice that the person is stopping and thinking. You don’t even need to know the answer to your questions. Just asking the question and them starting to process it, will help them to move forward.

What was the last great question that you asked?

How did this help the other person with their thinking?


2. Ask “What's going through your mind?”

It might seem a bit strange or uncomfortable to ask a friend or colleague what’s going on in their head. But there will be something going on and by understanding what it is you’ll be able to help them. This could be in any number of situations; one-to-one conversations, in a meeting or just day-to-day. You might choose to ask this because you’ve noticed they’re troubled by something, they’re unsure of what to do or just seem puzzled.

Once you know what they’re thinking you’ll be able to help them work out if this thinking is helpful or hindering. Is it helpful in their current situation or is it holding them back? If it isn’t helpful you can ask a high quality question that will encourage more helpful thinking. Or just by pointing this out they can focus on thinking that's more helpful.

It’s also a good question to ask of yourself. What’s going through your mind? Is your thinking helpful or hindering? What might possibly be the best question to ask yourself at this time?


3. Help others to define goals

You can help others by enabling them to work out what they really want. Helping them to gain real clarity. Even if their thinking is helpful, without a goal they'll just have unfocused actions. Helpful thinking, plus a clear goal will lead to actions that get the required end result.

Goals aren’t just for big projects or tasks. They can be useful for smaller tasks or even a way they want to feel. Do they want to be happier or feel more confident? They can create a specific goal about achieving these types of feelings.

Your role is to ask the questions that'll help them create a focused goal. What do they want? How do they want to feel? By when? How will they know when they’ve got there? What will be different?

What about if they don’t know what they want? How can you help them? You could help them imagine that they do know what they want. You could help them think about the things that are important to them. You could help them explore their dreams and wishes or think about ruts they may be in. You could help them to decide a time frame for deciding what it is they want. Any of these options will help them.

However, if they really aren’t bothered and there isn’t anything they want to do, to have or to be, it’s up to them. They just might not have a strong enough reason why to do something. This is fine, but at the same time they'll need to recognise that if they can’t be bothered to do anything about the situation or the thing that concerns them, then nothing will change.


4. Encourage possibility thinking

Possibility thinking helps others to consider things they’ve not thought about before. You engage others in possibility thinking in the way you phrase questions. Questions will typically start with ‘what’, ‘who’ or ‘how’ and include the words ‘could‘ and ‘possibly’. For example; “How could we possibly speed up meeting the deadlines for this project?”

You can use possibility thinking with individuals or with groups. Many people we meet in the organisations we work with complain about the ineffectiveness of meetings. It’s perhaps assumed that in meetings you can only contribute in two ways, either by saying something or by listening. What if you directed or redirected things by asking a really good possibility question. You could ask questions along the lines of:

  • What else could we possibly do?
  • Who else could we possibly involve to help?
  • How about spending five minutes thinking about possible obstacles?
  • How could we possibly overcome these obstacles?

It can be easier for our brains to turn to what is ‘known’, that is, what we already know. Thinking in possibilities will give new ideas, which means more choice and different solutions.


5. Be a coach

It can perhaps be perceived that coaching is about sitting down and having a ‘session’ with someone. That you need to be an expert and know everything about the subject, so you can offer advice. It doesn’t have to be this. You can have coaching conversations with others, unlocking their minds with some great questions.

It’s about asking that question that stops them in their tracks and gets them to think in a different way. The brain can’t help but respond to the question and start to think of answers. It might be a question that creates a new thought or inspires a decision. One great question could make all the difference and change things for the better.


“The answers are on the inside and the role of the coach is to unlock them from the outside.” - Andy Gilbert


These 5 tips for helping others with their thinking can be used easily.

And have a real effect if you focus on what will be most helpful to that person or group at that moment in time. You will see the power of asking the right question for the right person or group at the right time.

It could be that you are doing this consciously or unconsciously already, which is great. Being honest, how consistent are you with this? Is this something you think about and focus on?

Imagine the differences that could be made in organisations if everyone was helping others with their thinking. What might be the impact of clearly defined goals, coaching conversations taking place every day or high quality questions speeding up thinking. How much time and money could be saved by helping others to be more effective in their thinking? 


Here are 3 practical things you can do straightaway to help others be more solution focused with their thinking;

  • Identify who you can help with their thinking today. Plan to do it. There’s no need to block out time, just catch them for a few minutes. What would be most helpful to them, one or two great questions, help with generating ideas or help to get clarity with their goals?
  • Avoid giving solutions and ask questions instead. The next time you’re asked what to do, offer this back with a question.
  • Provoke thinking in your next meeting by asking a really great question.  


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