The Art of Critically Balanced Thinking

 by Dr. Shawn Ireland and Lorne Kelton

In the fast-paced world we live in, how often do we make decisions without really thinking critically? How often do we find coachees—and ourselves as coaches—constrained by biases and assumptions?

The challenge is not a lack of interest or effort but rather the lack of an effective method to address the contradictions and frustrations that stand in the way of thinking critically. Help is at hand. The IFRAME process is a new and useful tool enabling coaches to untangle the perceived complexity of critical thinking, and provides a practical formula to address the challenges in today's demanding environments. It enables us to explore our long-held assumptions, and to bring our thoughts into focus and analyse them. It also provides an opportunity to change the way we think in order to achieve more desirable outcomes.

The IFRAME Critical Thinking Process



What do I do?

What happens next?



Pay attention to an inciting incident that happens to me or that I trigger

An inciting incident significantly upsets the balance of forces in my life



Have an emotional reaction to the incident

I experience a physical, mental or spiritual reaction to what has happened



Ask myself and others probing questions to understand my response to the incident

I probe where my assumptions, biases and reactions are coming from



Bring my assumptions about the incident to the surface to verify their validity and analyse their consequences

I get honest with myself and look for trends and patterns in my biases and assumptions



Interpret the meaning and apply this heightened awareness to incidents in my life

I challenge my assumptions and explore new ways of thinking about the incident



Formalise the process with action planning to apply to future incidents

I implement a disciplined strategy to achieve new critical thinking outcomes

We all approach issues in a different way and have different ways of thinking. So, when exploring with coachees their interpretation of a situation, we have to listen and observe deeply to understand the personal preferences that are influencing the way they think. As coachees relate and reflect on incidents, we are then able to "tune in" to their preferred approach, and help them to become more self-aware and to better process their thoughts.

In our practice we are finding that linking the IFRAME critical thinking process with MBTI profiles is a powerful experience for both coachee and coach. For instance, if the coachee is an "F," then their approach to reflection will be more people and relationship focused. However, a "T" will be more focused on logic and facts than relationships. The reflective approach of an "S" is to focus on the interaction with their environment and the physical response to it. An "N" listens to their inner voice, so their reflection is more experiential in nature.

With these different profiles in mind, and through active listening, careful and varied questioning, paying attention to the coachee's use of language, emotions and body language, we are able to guide coachees in using the IFRAME in the way that suits them best. The clarity and self-awareness that ensue for the coachee are quite revelatory, like a dark cloud lifting, an "A-ha moment."

The IFRAME is flexible and easy-to-use, with each of the six steps representing a milestone in the journey to becoming critically self-aware, enabling us to appreciate the assumptions we make and explore new ways of thinking critically.


Dr. Shawn Ireland, EdD, is Managing Director of HRCgroup, an international management development and organisation development practice. He is a psychologist with some 25 years' experience in coaching and leadership development.




Lorne Kelton, MEd, is president of ThinkShift Performance Solutions, a Learning and Development company. He focuses on innovative learning practices enabling organisations to achieve performance breakthroughs. 


1 thought on “The Art of Critically Balanced Thinking”

  1. Gabriel Boutros

    Like so much good advice the six-steps of the IFRAME seem in hindsight like nothing more than plain common sense. But in gathering them and presenting them as they do the authors made me take a step back and take a second look at much of what I do on a daily basis, and ask questions about patterns of thought and action that I always took for granted. An all-too short article which left me looking forward to learning more.

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