See How a Certified Business Coach Can Boost Your Team Output by Leveraging the Power of First and Third Person Thinking

by | Jul 1, 2014

influence is power I am often asked the question, “What is the difference between running our own brainstorming retreat and working with a certified business coach?” This is an excellent opening to share some vital differences.

Team Meetings: Participation in First Person

“First-person” mode describes how the brain operates during our conscious periods. It is, in short, the brain’s default “on” mode. First-person thinking provides awareness, keeps people safe, and formulates initial reactions to stimuli. As with first-person narration, there is immediacy.

Team meetings can often involve brainstorming sessions. For example, classic first-person scenarios in most brainstorming sessions center on a given initiative, such as, “How do we solve problem X within a given time frame?”

In my experience, brainstorming participants tend to use their first-person (default) modes in such meetings. At times, a leader may even have a hidden motive, such as the hope of winning the group’s acceptance.

The Challenge of First-Person Thinking

First-person thinking can get in the way when team members react to an idea or thought that doesn’t harmonize with their current viewpoints. Individuals may fall into a trap of disagreeing with an opinion, and then defending their personal beliefs rather than listening to what others have to say. Instead of hearing plausible solutions to problem X, they busy themselves by developing counterarguments based on their own biases. They may also stop engaging in the brainstorming process altogether.

In such meetings, it is common for one person to come up with an idea and another to champion it. Depending on their ability to sell the idea to the rest of the group, others may buy in and suggest ways to implement it. This can happen before others have had an opportunity to put forward alternate solutions. The result may be that implementation of the one “championed thought” is well underway before everyone has been heard. In such circumstances, “personal positions” can become heated because others have not had their say.

Too often, ideas offered in brainstorming meetings lack originality at the precise time when it is necessary to foster creativity and innovation. For example, we tend to draw on our “winning strategies,” which may or may not be appropriate for the circumstances and are limited to our experiences.

The Third-Person Solution

It is a leader’s responsibility to ensure that everyone is heard and that thoughts and feelings are acknowledged by the team. He or she can facilitate this by encouraging the team to listen fully and to suspend judgment. Rather than trying to refute that which does not fit into their worldview or opinion, participants are asked to simply absorb what is being said and only ask questions for clarity. Then, ideally, the team takes a break to play a game of volleyball or go home.

What value can this possibly have for the team and for brainstorming? During an activity that allows a “shutdown” (e.g., intense exercise, meditation, yoga, gardening, or sleep), their first-person brain has the opportunity to switch to a different function called “third-person” thinking. Conscious minds leave the meeting, and unconscious minds begin to mull over the information taken in during the meeting.

The unconscious mind functions without distractions from the judgmental, defensive, conscious mind, and then rationalizes what we heard with our opinions. This creates new neuropathways and enables people to make new connections, which were not possible when the conscious mind was playing goalie and wouldn’t let in new input!

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