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  • Writer's pictureSarah Carter

Thinking Out Loud

My husband does this thing where he will start a conversation in his mind at Point A but not start telling me what he is thinking until Point M so I am caught totally off guard and unable to answer any question this internal monolog was leading up to. My standard answer is "I cannot read your mind my dear, how about starting that one over from the beginning." This is my attempt at trying to get him to think out loud...I will let you know how it is going in about five years.

But until then, let us look at how David Marquet integrated thinking out loud into his multi-million dollar, constantly in motion, nuclear submarine and how it could improve the communication scene in your home and/or place of business. We used this in the pilot and emergency response community all the time but it never occurred to me that we were the exception to the rule. At 30,000 feet in the air, you cannot afford to make decisions in a vacuum. Talking them out from start to finish efficiently (meaning quickly because that plane is still moving very fast) is the best way to make 95% percent of cockpit decisions. That other 5% is reserved for the truly split second, life-or-death instances that get thoroughly discussed after the fact.

This process became so second nature to me that I do not know if I truly recall how it was taught to me initially. In Turn the Ship Around, Marquet describes thinking out loud as an "informal yet informative manner of speaking" pg. 105. It is a process in which you voice the thoughts in your mind revolving around a decision-to-be-made or a question. Pilots do this when troubleshooting malfunctions; making changes to altitude, direction, or speed; reviewing the flight plan; and numerous other times every flight. This ensures everyone is on the same page and, most importantly, gives space for others to challenge the initiator's plan before it is too late. Similarly, in the emergency response world, we would think out loud when affronted with information or indications that could lead to dangerous conditions.

Thinking out loud is "not what we picture when we think of the movie image of the charismatic and confident leader, but it creates a much more resilient system" pg. 103. This is so true especially when mentally picturing a military leader. But the truth is...YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!! What I mean is, Col Nathan Jessup in A Few Good Men is the confident, self-assured, experienced, demigod figure that Hollywood presents as a partial truth to represent one type of leadership. Col Jessup would have never thought to think out loud with those in his charge and that is perhaps a large part of why they failed. Leadership similar to Jessup's is what Marquet sought to oust with his intent-based-leadership aboard the USS Santa Fe and thinking out loud was a portion of his plan. When Marquet exercised thinking out loud with his crew, he was "modeling that lack of certainty is strength and certainty is arrogance" pg. 106.

In a complex environment such as a submarine, airplane, multi-person home, or duel-income family, you cannot be certain of what every part-in-motion is doing 100% of the time. You will know your part off it, someone else will know another part, and maybe even five others will know the other pieces of the puzzle. If you, as the leader, make a decision that affects all of the parts without first talking through it with the others, the odds of it being a successful decision are extremely low.

There are several great examples of how Marquet used this method on his ship in the book but it may be difficult at first to see how that can apply to your home leadership life. Here's an example a friend of mine presented to me. Her husband was about to receive a significant year-end bonus. He knew she had been wanting a new car. They had not talked about actually buying one because they were not in a financial place to do so. With the bonus, they would be in a financially sound position, and he thought that would be a great way to spend the extra money but he decided to talk it through with her rather than just surprising her. My friend said she was so relieved that he asked her first because, while yes she would love a new car, the roof on her parents' house had just been destroyed in a hail storm and insurance was not going to cover the full cost. They would be able to help her parents out by using some of his bonus to augment the insurance portion then save the rest.

I am by no means implying that you should not surprise your significant other with awesome gifts! I love a car with a big red bow on the top of it as much as the next person but by talking big decisions out before acting on the decision you may discover important information from another invested party.

Where might you add thinking out loud to your world? How could it bring clarity to situations already in motion? What examples do you have of this method being successful in your arenas? I would love to hear from you! Please comment below, reach out via email, or comment on my social media spaces.

Have yet to buy the book? Head on over to Amazon and pick up a copy then come on back on Aug 30th to continue the conversation.

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