"The Six Thinking Hats and Their Ties to Coaching" in white on a blue bubbly background accompanied by six different hats in blue, white, red, green, yellow, and black

“The Six Thinking Hats” by Edward de Bono is a useful technique for problem solving, ideation, and recognizing six distinct perspectives of analyzing a situation. The technique encourages us to think beyond our innate perspective(s).

Throughout my coaching and facilitation journey, I have found that many people gravitate to one of the Six Thinking Hats as their daily or natural thinking perspective. With practice, it is possible to quickly analyze situations using the other hats as well. I believe it’s beneficial to change our perspectives and see a situation from multiple angles.

“The Six Thinking Hats” is a useful coaching technique for understanding the mindset of those that I’m coaching. It’s important to recognize that my perspective of thinking may not always align with the perspective of others - the Hat I’m wearing and the Hat someone else is wearing may not always be the same. To ensure a successful coaching session, I may choose to change my Hat to drive toward the desired coaching outcome.

As you read the descriptions of the “Six Thinking Hats” try to decide which Hats you wear the most.

a blue hat at an angle

Blue Hat: Process

Blue Hats are highly analytical thinkers. They’re process-driven thinkers who look at datapoints and examine flow. Blue Hats want to know the data that supports the information that’s being shared.

a white hat at an angle

White Hat: Facts

White Hats want to hear the facts first. They are not immediately concerned with feelings. A facts-driven person wants to know the details, the historical data, the proof, and the evidence.

a red hat at an angle

Red Hat: Feelings

Red Hats lead first with feelings and emotional expression. They respond with emotions to the conversation or problem. Red Hats may be bubbly or effusive and want light conversation before addressing the situation.

a green hat at an angle

Green Hat: Creativity

Green Hats are creative. They are worldly thinkers and visionaries. They have left today behind and are solving a problem that is 10 years in the future. They think outside of the box and are excited about an innovative approach. Green Hats need space to be creative and permission to generate ideas.

a yellow hat at an angle

Yellow Hat: Benefits

Yellow Hats think about benefits. They want to know what is in it for themselves, their team, or organization. They want to know the ROI and they want to know “why” the situation is being analyzed and/or considered.

a black hat at an angle

Black Hat: Cautious

Black Hats are cautious, maybe even skeptical. They engage the cautious thinker in a safe space. Pay attention to their tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions. A conversation might end sooner than intended if a Black Hat is uncomfortable or unwilling to take part in the conversation.

Why Use the Six Thinking Hats

Six Thinking Hats as a coaching technique is a fantastic way to figure out what is important to the person you are interacting with or coaching. I use the “Six Thinking Hats” to understand and discern the mindset of the person with whom I am coaching. Beginning a conversation with feelings could backfire if the individual is a cautious or a facts-perspective thinker, and I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable.

a blue, red, yellow, black, green, and white hat arranged in a circle

What if I Wear the Wrong Hat?

I don’t always put on the right Hat. I observe, listen, and prepare, but I pivot quickly if needed. I'll keep trying on the Hats until I find one that fits the situation. I’m also aware of my personal characteristics and behaviors while wearing the various Hats and begin to recognize those similarities in others. With time and practice, it has almost become second nature.

a grey thinking cloud with a question mark

Call to Action

Here is an idea: Setup a practice session! Engage with a trusted colleague, mentor, coach, or friend and explore different situations wearing all 6 Hats with them. Try to discover which Hat is being worn based on questions and responses, and then reflect on the activity to see how you can refine the technique for future use.