Thanks for Making Me Think

People like to be thanked for the work they do, even if sometimes it’s against our learned behaviour to be demonstrative when receiving the thanks. “Thank you” is the most basic form of reward, and its given added value when the person thanking is specific about why they are grateful. “Thank you for listening while I sorted out that problem in my head” clearly recognises what was valuable about the contribution.

Four times in the past fortnight I’ve been specifically thanked for something which is important to me. “Thank you for opening my mind to the alternatives. You’ve made me think differently. I can see how to achieve this.”

The reward for me is seeing people who have become burdened by the enormity of the projects they are involved in, and find themselves trapped by insufficient experience (in the project, management or technology), become people of action and stronger leaders. Through conversations covering current opportunities and constraints, and presenting methods of melding solutions to fit specific environments, options for the successful path forward are uncovered.

Of course it’s part of my role, through training, facilitating, coaching or managing projects, to challenge people to think deeper and explore further.

It’s also a habit worthwhile instilling into life in general, rather than waiting for someone to push, prod and poke us out of our comfort zone and into an alternative thinking zone.


Frequently accomplishing goals at work will feel obstructed by managers. The messages filter down that time, budget, resources, etc. are not available and will not be approved. Or work that put forward for approval is ignored and does not progress.
Alternately managers will find staff failing to perform to the level, or at the speed required.

In both cased the parties become gridlocked. Unable to find a path forward to achieving the required goal. It’s an old adage, but “walk a mile in my shoes” frequently reveals an alternate view of the world.

The manager who “won’t” approve the file plan may be procrastinating because they have no experience in the classification scheme, and the file plan is 20 pages long, and they only just took over the team. They know they need two straight days to really get their head around it, but can’t find the space in the diary to make this a priority. It keeps being moved to be bottom of the in-tray. What if they only needed to approve small chunks of discreet records initially in the file plan?

The under-performing staff member may be a myriad of reasons of course, ranging from skill and knowledge gaps to personal circumstances, which they may not be open to expressing. The least likely reason is deliberate truculence, although this is frequently the initial assumption. Take the time to explore all the possible reasons a person may be finding it challenging to perform the required tasks. Take responsibility for being part of the problem where you are (are you the manager who is not approving and what can you offer as a solution?), or discuss alternate approaches to a task which may suit the staff member better.


Talking helps thinking. Verbalising chaotic thoughts forces people to express them coherently. I’m always glad to be of assistance when a team member sits at my desk, tells me their problem and verbalises the solution whilst doing so! “Glad to be of help!” I say when thanked for my time and chair.

Of course more valuable are coaches or mentors who can also ask clarifying questions of the particular situation or problem when needed. Frequently just being questioned is enough to expose blind spots in thinking and open alternate approaches for exploration. Such a coach may simply be a colleague who is happy to listen and question. Mentors are of even greater value, especially if they have experience with the actual issues.

Skilled facilitators fit into this role, either through training delivery, or private consultation. They bring a large breadth of experience external to the immediate organisation, and with it unconstrained, open approaches for discussion.


Read and listen widely of other people’s experience with similar projects or challenges. Your situation is unlikely to be unique. Many ideas are transferable, adjusted slightly, from one environment to another.

Seek explanation during your research. Frequently the “case study” will be the approved version for public consumption. At an eLearning conference I attended, in which a case study of the funded pilot for a qualification was showcased, I asked the unpalatable question, “How many of the pilot students actually completed the training?” The answer was “None”!
Discover what made a particular approach successful in one environment, but not in another. Was it the capability of staff involved, management support, great use of technology, excellence in project management, or effective business process? Take this knowledge and relate it back to your environment.

By unlocking our ingrained thinking patterns we have the potential to discover a myriad of methods of achieving our goals. I too, say “Thank you” to all the people who daily help unlock my thinking.

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