Critical Thinking, Dialogue, and the Role of the Coach in Workflow Learning – Workshop Tip #250

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Have you ever participated in sports? Think about that for a moment. Did you work with a coach? What was the role of the coach? How did the coach help you think for yourself?

One role of the coach is to teach. However, it’s not the only role. In fact, the person who performs the role of coach must be equipped with a set of skills to fully perform his/her capacity of helping the team to learn and improve their individual and team performance.

In the article “Critical Thinking and Coaching: The Links”, Dr. Roy van den Brink-Budgen presents a strong link between coaching and critical thinking. Critical thinking includes a focus on evaluation and reasoning. 

He further elaborates the definition of critical thinking as “a way of approaching and solving problems based on convincing, logical and rational arguments, which involve verifying, evaluating and choosing the right response for a given task and reasoned rejection of the alternative possibilities” (Ticusan and Elena, 2015).

Critical Thinking and Workflow Learning are Interconnected

Critical thinking, therefore, is an ongoing active process that uses key skills to generate and evaluate possibilities, to reason out based on careful judgment, and so on.

In a nutshell, Dr. Roy describes critical thinking as “the activity of looking at the possible meaning and significance of claims.” It is this process of looking for and looking at significance that fits so well with coaching, particularly because both emphasize:

Asking questions
Considering possible answers
Asking for clarifications
Considering alternative approaches
Adding in further information
Considering alternative approaches
Adding in further information
Seeking to produce a well-reasoned decision

Critical Thinking and Workflow Learning are Interconnected

Similarly, in the Workflow Learning (WFL) environment, coaching and critical thinking are interconnected.  Workflow Learning engages the worker/learner to pay attention in the real-world workplace. The critical thinking challenge is being able to examine your own point of view, background information, and assumptions while in the flow of work.

Workflow Learning helps the learners think for themselves and fix work situations. In fact, in the Workflow Diagnostic Process, we often find answers and solutions to the following questions: 

What is the history of the problem?
What is the fix?
What happens if the fix doesn’t work?
What if we tried a different fix?
Is that fix working?

This analysis of the inter-relationship of coaching and the development (and reinforcement) of critical thinking is summed up well with the idea that critical thinking involves the honest evaluation of alternatives.

Building Critical Thinking Through Dialogue

We can see how coaching and critical thinking fit together via the emphasis on questioning through dialogue:

By dialogue on material and issues that are authentic to the coached
By the tapping into and the continued development of metacognition (being able to recognize and examine your own thinking)
By the contribution to improving decision-making at all levels

When a person tries to do some work, the thinking process simultaneously works in finding out what the problem is, how it gets fixed, and what happens if it doesn’t get fixed.

In summary

Coaching is a complex process that not only teaches but aims to improve performance. The greatest challenge, however, is for every coach to live by example the process of authentic dialogue and critical thinking with metacognition.

Understanding the Workflow Diagnostic Process is a way to examine one’s own thinking and helps the coach to expose this to others in order for them to grow in their critical thinking. All this leads to better decision-making and sustained growth for the individual, team and organization.


Dr Roy van den Brink-Budgen (n.d.), Coaching and Critical Thinking: The Links

“Figure it Out!” – A Practical Framework for Workflow Learning

Tip #176 – Build a Culture of Critical Thinking for Learning Breakthroughs

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
“Helping Learners Learn Their Way”

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