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Tools for Mental Models

As an aspiring coach, I understand that clients have many of their own mental models, and I know for a fact that I have my own - it’s how we’ve been able to move quickly through decision making over the years. However, one of my concerns is that it will be challenging for me to realize when a client’s mental model is blocking them from making meaningful progress, and that my own mental models will hinder me from coaching them through their own assumptions.

Remaining a present listener can help me better understand my clients’ mental models in order to guide them through their challenges. One thing that I need to remember to listen for in coaching conversations are things that sound like assumptions. If it doesn’t sound like a client is sharing the data behind their assumptions, that should sound off a bell in my head that they may be up the ladder of inference. I appreciated the tools outlined in “Strategies for Working with Mental Models”, and plan to use a couple when working to discover a client’s mental model (Senge et al., 1994).

The first tool that I will use is walking a client down their ladder of inference. My goal will be to determine what conclusions they have made about a person or situation, and ask for them to provide the data that lead them to this conclusion. Listening will be critical during this line of questioning, and asking them to spend time reflecting on their assumptions and challenging them when necessary will hopefully help them better identify their mental models.

The second tool that I want to use is Ross and Kleiner’s “Left Hand Column” exercise (Senge et al., 1994). This exercise asks a client to choose and describe a problem, and then outline what they were thinking during the problem. Having clients provide insight into their thoughts can help me guide them through a personal reflection exercise to better identify blind spots. It will be important for me to listen intently to their responses, continue to ask them to dig deep in their reflections, and remain neutral throughout this process.

Mental models can be challenging to overcome. However, I believe with strong presence, listening, and the use of some of these tools, I can help myself and my clients overcome mental models and practice reflection in order to grow and reach our goals.


Senge, P., Roberts, C., Ross, R., Smith, B., & Kleiner, A. (1994). Strategies for working with mental

models. The fifth discipline fieldbook (pp. 235-263). New York: Doubleday.

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