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Differences — People think differently.

As session leader, you empower participants and their ability to understand and communicate with each other. Additionally, you enable them to think creatively about their business. Hence, the following two subjects deal with the way people think—horizontal/ vertical thinking and paradigms.

The Way People Think Affects How You Intervene to Build Consensus

People Learn Differently

Horizontal/ Vertical

Participants in a workshop argue over a seemingly simple issue. Consequently, two people hear the same thing and react as if they each were in different meetings. Why? Because people interpret information differently. Meanwhile, there are many theories about how people process information.

One theory states that the two spheres of the brain, the right and the left, govern our thinking with right brain or left brain thinking.

However, another theory that explains the differences more clearly is Communicoding. This theory states that there are two modes of thinking for processing information, vertical and horizontal. These two modes of thinking may have a difficult time communicating with each other because the way that each perceives the world is different. What are they?

Vertical Thinker

A vertical thinker is often described as very logical, organized, and detail-oriented. Therefore, vertical thinkers:

  • Easily discern immediate dynamics of a problem.
  • Identify specific details and relate issues to reality.
  • Know what can be accomplished within a given time.
  • See barriers and obstacles to be removed.
  • Take the likely paths to reach results.
  • Work well in structured environments.

The vertical thinker’s main characteristic is that they find differences. Vertical thinkers can decompose something and design something new from the pieces. They work from exclusion.

Horizontal Thinker

A horizontal thinker is often described as far-sighted, innovative, and conceptual. Therefore, horizontal thinkers:

  • Easily discern the underlying dynamics of a problem.
  • Identify contextual details—relating issues to a larger perspective.
  • Know what impact can be achieved within a given context.
  • See possibilities and benefits to strive for.
  • Take the unlikely paths to reach results.
  • Work well in unstructured environments.

Horizontal thinkers’ main characteristic is that they find similarities. They are able to find the common thread—to make new associations among unrelated items. They work from inclusion.

To Identify

As a facilitator, you cannot change the way people think—and never label participants. You do help the participants in a workshop learn to hear each other and to better understand their communication challenges. Clues that thinking differences are causing problems are:

  • One person arguing about the problems while another is focused on the benefits.
  • One person trying to get to the details while the other is trying to focus on the ideas.
  • People using the same words yet meaning something different or arguing as if they are saying something different.
  • Using different words that seem to be saying the same thing.

To Fix

When you hear communication problems consider the following:

  • Capture what each person is saying—write it on the flip charts without putting their names by the ideas.
  • Draw pictures using visual aids, flip charts, and models. By using visual support or other exercises, participants learn about their business.
  • Get the group to see both similarities and differences.
  • Move the focus of the group away from people and onto the 
issue(s) at hand.
  • Summarize both similarities and differences and get the group to decide what to do with them or move along to the next step.

Register for a class or forward this to someone who should. MG RUSH  professional facilitation curriculum focuses on practicing methodology. Each student thoroughly practices and rehearses tools before class concludes. While some call this immersion, we call it the road to building impactful facilitation skills.


Don’t ruin your career or reputation with bad meetings. Register for a class or forward this to someone who should. Taught by world-class instructors, MG RUSH  professional facilitation curriculum focuses on practice. Each student thoroughly practices and rehearses tools, methods, and approaches throughout the week. While some call this immersion, we call it the road to building impactful facilitation skills.

Our courses also provide an excellent way to earn up to 40 SEUs from the Scrum Alliance, 40 PDUs from PMI, and 40 CDUs from IIBA, as well as 3.2 CEUs for other professions. (See individual class descriptions for details.)

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Facilitation Expert

Terrence Metz, CSM, PSPO, CSPF, is the Managing Director of MG RUSH Facilitation Training and Coaching, the acknowledged leader in structured facilitation training. His FAST Facilitation Best Practices blog features over 300 articles on facilitation skills and tools aimed at helping others lead faster, more productive meetings and workshops that yield higher quality decisions. His clients include Agilists, Scrum teams, program and project managers, senior officers, and the business analyst community among numerous private and public companies and global corporations. As an undergraduate of Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and MBA graduate from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, his professional experience has focused on process improvement and product development. He continually aspires to make it easier for others to succeed.

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