Coaches who know their purpose are more motivated and better able to explain the power of coaching. Nevertheless, their ability to lead is limited if they make poor decisions.

Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman’s insights about decision-making (2011) illuminate the complex nature of coaching. According to Kahneman, decisions are made in two completely different ways: by thinking fast or thinking slow.

Thinking fast is the way we think when we make decisions so quickly that we may not even realize that we are making them. Thinking slow occurs when we have time to decide what to do. Hitting the brakes when a car cuts in front of us is an example of thinking fast. Deciding whether or not to sue the other driver after the accident is thinking slow. Both ways of making decisions are important, and both are big parts of every coach’s life. But developing a method of guiding our fast thinking can ensure that we make the best possible decisions.


Thinking Fast

Coaches think fast almost every time they interact with collaborating teachers. In a flash, they need to read teachers’ facial expressions and body language, assess whether teachers feel safe in the conversation, choose what questions to ask, and decide when to move back and forth between facilitative and dialogical approaches to interaction.

What I’m discovering is that when they have to think fast, many coaches use single phrases, often referred to as mantras, to make better decisions.  Author/consultant and former instructional coach Michelle Harris has found Susan Scott’s phrase “respect the sweet purity of silence” to be an incredibly helpful mantra.  “I say that mantra to myself, over, and over, and over again in my head,” Michelle said. “And to be quite honest, I have to literally bite my tongue to keep silent.” 

Other coaches use other mantras. Coaching researcher Christian van Nieuwerburgh reminds himself of the mantra “it’s not about me” to help himself resist the temptation to solve another person’s problem. Author/consultant Ann Hoffman shares Michael Bungay Stanier’s mantra “be more curious” when she leads workshops on the book Better Conversations (Knight, 2005).




Are there any mantras you use to help guide your decision-making?

Share in the comments below!