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How To Handle Fear And Angst During A Pandemic Part 2: Organizing Our Thoughts Using Parallel Thinking- the Six Thinking Hats®

I honestly believe that organizing our thoughts about the pandemic or events that arise from it can help us handle our emotional response to our situation and may help prevent that “run-away train” effect we sometimes have when we’re fearful or uncertain.  One of the premier tools I believe for organizing our thinking is that of “Parallel Thinking” developed by Dr. Edward de Bono and presented quite succinctly in his book, Six Thinking Hats (Little, Brown & Co., New York, 1985).  I encourage you to read his book. The Six Thinking Hats® is one of the foundational tools of the de Bono Thinking Systems®.

We’ve become accustomed, even trained and rewarded for “Traditional Thinking”, characterized by debate, argument and making OUR points/counter-points.  The challenge with this way of thinking is that as we look at an issue we’re:

  • constantly listening to respond,
  • raising defenses,
  • making isolated decision (not being as collaborative as we could), and
  • are busy forming our own argument. 

I think this becomes exacerbated in the pandemic environment where we don’t necessarily see (or even know) the person with whom we’re “chatting” and, through the use of social media, we can find a host of folks (real or not) who agree with our perspective, whether or not it’s well thought out or balanced. We’re not sharing what we know and combining the best of our thinking, we’re merely talking “at” each other.  Even more to the point, in a pandemic-stressed world, when I’m doing my own, individual thinking, my pandemic-induced angst keeps me jumping from one perspective or another; never settling long enough to take action.  The conversation in my brain when I’m thinking about life in this pandemic world sounds like this: “Wow, this is really bad.  That’s not going to work.  Oh, look, there’s someone that actually has a really positive impact!  Man, I am so worried about getting sick. Maybe I can make my OWN disinfectants.  How are my clients feeling? What is the National Center for Health Statistics saying about infection rates? What am I going to do today?”  I have a hard time organizing these racing thoughts with my traditional thinking, where I’m creating and hearing arguments in my own head and not generating solutions.

Parallel thinking is fundamentally different.  It brings structure when addressing an issue. When we think in parallel, we’re all going to look at it from the same perspective, give our thoughts from that perspective, then move on to a new perspective.  In Dr. de Bono’s book, he uses the analogy of looking at a house, and deciding what to do with the house.  In Traditional thinking, we’re all standing around the house, some of us in front, some of us inside, some of us in the back, some of us may even be on the roof!  Each of us with our unique opinion from our perspective of the house. If I ask everyone, “Describe the house”,  I’ll get this cacophony of very different images of the house, making it difficult to integrate all of the information, and collaborate.  In parallel thinking, we do one thing at a time, which allows us to be efficient in organizing our thinking and deciding what to do.  So, in parallel thinking, we’ll have everyone stand together in front of the house. Now, when we describe the house, though we have different thoughts about it, we’re giving those thoughts from the shared perspective of looking at the front of the house.  Excellent.  Now, everybody to the back of the house….etc.   Our thinking will be now be organized in such a way that we can deal with the house more easily, and get a much richer participation in the conversation.  When I think about issues associated with the pandemic,  can I do the same thing; use a framework that helps me shift perspectives and keep my thinking organized?  The answer is, “Yes! Use the Six Thinking Hats.”

As a brief summary, the Six Thinking Hats® provide a parallel thinking framework of six perspectives for organizing our thinking; Blue Hat, White Hat, Red Hat, Yellow Hat, Black Hat and Green Hat.  The hats themselves serve as a metaphor for organizing our thinking.  Think about when you played “pretend” as a child.  When you put on the Fireman’s Hat or Astronaut’s Helmet or the Bus Driver’s Hat, you WERE the Fireman, Astronaut or Bus Driver.  Wearing that professional’s hat reminded you THAT was the job you were doing, and you were able to stay in that role as you played.  If we ALL wore that hat, then we share that perspective.  The same is true of the Six Thinking Hats.  If I remind myself of the color of the hat and its corresponding perspective, it’ll be easier for me to stay within that perspective while looking at an issue.  More importantly, if I use a sequence of the Hats, i.e. a variety of Hats in a pre-arranged order, to actually organize my thinking. I can focus on one perspective at a time, knowing that I’ll get through ALL of the perspectives, and bring some order to the chaotic thoughts buzzing around my brain. This allows me to develop actionable ideas that will move me forward in addressing what’s challenging me. To work with the Hats, I use prompts, (i.e. a statement to respond to or a question to answer to focus my thinking) for each perspective.  The Hats and their prompts might look like this :

Blue Hat (The Hat of Process): I will focus my thinking on ______, using this sequence of Hats.

Red Hat (The Hat of Intuition and Emotion): How am I feeling about ______?  What does my intuition say?

White Hat (The Hat of Information): What’s the latest information I have? What Information do I need to get?  Where do I go get it?

Yellow Hat (The Hat of Benefits and Feasibility): What’re the benefits, and the upside to this situation?

Black Hat (The Hat of Risk, Difficulties and Problems): What are the Risks, Difficulties and Problems?  What are the challenges or the downside to this situation?

Green Hat (The Hat of Possibilities and Alternatives): What ideas come to mind to augment the upside or mitigate the downside of the situation?

Red Hat: How am I feeling NOW?

Blue Hat: What will I do next with these new ideas?  As a result of my thinking, I will take the following the actions…

This is the simplest sequence I use to deal with “pandemic-induced angst”.  Let’s apply it to a real life scenario: Dealing with quarantine and “stay at home” orders.

            Blue Hat: I need to focus my thinking on how to handle quarantine/stay at home orders.

            Red Hat: Wow!  I’m nervous! And just a little fearful…

            White Hat: I know it’ll be measured in weeks or months, not days. I need to find out how restrictive the quarantine orders are; What does the Governor’s order say about leaving the house?  I need to read the actual orders and amendments. What’s my Company’s Covid-19 Policy?  I need to read it.

            Yellow Hat:  You know, there’s a BUNCH of things I’d like to get done around the house. I might have time to take up a new hobby! I can practice my musical instrument(s). I can finally binge watch Downton Abbey!

            Black Hat: I’ll run out of food, because I only have a weeks’ worth of fresh food in the house.  Oh, and “necessities” like TP, hand sanitizer, and paper towels.  I might get bored with so much time on my hands. My work! My job has always been face to face in the office! I won’t be able to visit my friends and family.

            Green Hat (To leverage my Yellow Hat Thinking):  Make a list of ALL the things I have to do around the house, and all the things I’d LIKE to do while I have to “stay at home”.  I could prioritize the lists themselves and the items on the list, and develop a “rewards structure” for crossing things off the lists. 

Green Hat (To address my Black Hat Thinking): Research on-line order and delivery in my area, including costs and convenience.  Make a menu for the next month or two and develop a time-phased shopping list. I can inventory my “consumables” and determine when to order. I can call/text friends and family, share ideas on what technologies we might use for virtual get togethers: Happy Hours? Shared Movie times?  And set dates! I could make a “T-Chart” of all the things I have to do for work, separating them into what I can do virtually and what must wait until I can be face to face.  I could share the T-chart with my supervisor.

Red Hat:  Relieved!  I can actually start DOING something!

Blue Hat: Next step is to make all of the lists from my Green Hat Thinking, and prioritize them.

THERE!  Actions I can sink my teeth into, and make progress in dealing with my fear of being cooped up for weeks on end.  I’ve used the same Six Hats tool I have been teaching teams to use to improve the efficacy of their meetings and interactions to organize my own thinking to address my own challenges. 

But, now my interactions with others look very different than they did pre-Pandemic, so how can I ensure those go well, when I can’t necessarily look them in the eye every day?  In my next blog, I’ll discuss exactly that; using the psychometric tool, Emergenetics® to help me improve my personal interactions when there is no “normal”. And there are additional de Bono Thinking Systems™ tools I could use to be more creative and effective in my interactions.  More on these in my next segments.

(For more on the Six Thinking Hats® and other de Bono Thinking Systems® tools, please visit www.recourcesunlimited.com.  To learn about Emergenetics® before my next blog, please visit www.emergenetics.com .)

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