Executive Briefing Protocol: The 4 Thinking Styles You Must Consider

As you go higher in your organization, your message must have a broader appeal. Being able to communicate in all four thinking styles will allow you to reach more people, and influence more decision-makers with your message.

– Peter Khoury

The 4 Thinking Styles is an adaptation of Dr. Bernice McCarthy’s 4MAT learning style system developed to enhance the educational experience of students.

The 4 Thinking Styles You Must Consider

1. The “Why” Thinkers

These individuals want their “why-based questions” answered, such as: Why they are in the meeting? Why we are doing what is proposed? Why is this important to you? Why now?

  • These types of people can be impatient.
  • Examples: CEO, superintendent, students and families

2. The “What” Thinkers

These individuals want their “what-based questions” answered, such as: What is the science? What is the history? What is the cost? What is the background?

  • These people are:
    • Thinking about the big picture connections between what is already being done, and what needs to be done moving forward.
    • Managers who are going to allocate resources
    • Examples: teachers and administrators

3. The “How” Thinkers

These individuals want their “how-based questions” answered, such as: How do we achieve this goal? How do we move forward? How do we get over this obstacle? How will we monetarily pay for this change?

  • These types of people are doers, make-it-happen individuals, and are often detail-oriented.
  • Example: teachers, resistant individuals

4. The “What If” Thinkers

This group consists of two different mindsets.

  1. The What If positive thinkers want to know how the new idea connects to the bigger vision and all the possible outcomes of implementing the new idea.
    • Examples: entrepreneurial folks, superintendents, administrators
  1. The What If negative thinkers what to address any objections, and tend to think about what could go wrong. (Note: there is nothing wrong with this mindset. This voice is often a very important part of the group.)
    • Examples: legal, financial, HR, District, School Board

The 7 Questions Template

Below is the template to guide you through creating a presentation with The 4 Thinking Styles in mind.

1. Why Are You There?

Be explicit.

  • Some examples:
    • I am here today to provide an update on project x.
    • I am here today to propose xyz.

2. Why Does it Matter?

Explain why your presentation matters, or is important now.

Tell the decision-makers in the room the importance of your idea to ensure they aren’t spacing out on your presentation trying to figure it out for themselves. These types of thinkers will simply stop listening if they don’t have a clear understanding of why it’s important.

3. What is the Background?

Remind everyone in the room what you are discussing/proposing.

If there are multiple projects happening at a school at any given time, it’s helpful for these types of thinkers to have a brief reminder of what your presentation is about to avoid confusion.

4. What is the Update or Proposal?

Get to the meat of the topic.

Everything you said before this step is preparing for this moment. The steps prior to this provide context to avoid confusion.

5. How to go Forward?

Provide next steps in a broad perspective (avoid too many details).

6. What If Positive?

Oftentimes, leaders care most about the projects they have a personal hand in, so try to tie your ideas to a larger goal the school is working toward achieving.

Use this point strategically, and only when it’s truly applicable.

7. What If Negative?

Consider bringing up objections and possible alternatives quickly in order to deal with them.

If you bring these up first, it shows that you have a balanced and rational view, and that you already considered alternatives to what could go wrong.

Note: If you don’t anticipate any objections, then skip this step. You don’t want to plant negative thoughts when there were none.

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