Essential thought partnership decisions

Good thought partners ask and answer themselves and their prospective partners three key questions:

  1. Am I committed to making progress in my work and my life, but don't yet have the learning blueprint I need?

  2. If so, is a Thought Partnership the right way for me to develop this blueprint?

  3.  Where can I find the Thought Partner that will help me grow?

What follows is TLO's answer for these three questions.  


Effective Thought Partnerships are born; they develop over time. Each new partnership begins by confronting an inevitable set of trust issues which, when addressed effectively, establishes for the thought partners their personal contexts and specific conversational boundaries. For TLO, the activity involved here comprises the first moves of every partnership, steps that must be taken, either by the person who’s asking for help or by the person who’s offering it. Whoever starts, these initial steps must eventually become reciprocal and effective.

Years of experience and volumes of research show us that these initial moves always follow a script that, for both parties, creates what we at TLO see as our Thought Partnerships' “opening dance.” This opening dance is a sequence of decisions taken over time that gives potential partners the chance to test whether each will be safe while one is being vulnerable with the other. Each opening dance must enact these early trust-building steps. They're the ritual that helps the partners confirm whether their own sense of self-worth, dignity, and value is going to be mirrored in their new Thought Partner’s eyes, heart, and behavior. Simply put, a Thought Partnership's opening dance establishes the framework that allows each partner to test out the Thought Partner roles into which they're going to step. 

How easily and effectively these early decisions are made depends on the degree to which each party grants value to his or her counterpart. Researchers on Thought Partnerships' successful beginnings say that, during this opening dance, both parties have to check out five issues before they'll each be ready to step into the partnership. Will each offer the other the attention, acknowledgment, acceptance, appreciation, and assistance they each believe is needed to feel safe in the mutual relationship that their Thought Partnership must create?

Stepping Into Thought Partnership Roles

Given all this, it's always going to be tough to decide whether you should join a Thought Partnership. After all, when your Thought Partnership lasts long enough, the demands it makes on you and your partners will inevitably transform your partnership into a set of role relationships within which each partner co-creates new stories of understanding and action. Essentially, while deciding whether to join or not, you're actually learning how in your partnership  to become a reasonably seamless mixture of four different kinds of people:

  • A COLLEAGUE, someone knowledgeable about the business, profession, or discipline of their partner.

  • A good COMPANION, someone who either has been or currently is traveling the same path.

  • A trustworthy CONFIDANT, someone with whom their partner can share insecurities and doubts, and

  • A special kind of COACH, someone who is especially adept at helping their partner consciously reflect on and talk about how their thoughts about key issues and challenges are currently organized.

Making The Thought Partnering Decision

If you’re deciding whether to join a Thought Partnership, you'll want to do six things:

  1. Become aware of the recent events and episodes in your own and your partner’s life that trouble and/or challenge each of you.

  2. Be able to discuss these troubles and/or challenges in ways that make sense of these issues to you and your Thought Partner.

  3. Be able to identify and select one or two of your more important troubles, and acknowledge to yourself and your Thought Partner the fact that these are the issues on which you're choosing to focus your attention.

  4. Share and reflect on these challenges in ways that help you and your partner assess their foundations, significance, and implications.

  5. Identify and frame these challenges in ways that retain their challenging complexity but nonetheless make them more easily discussed and available for experimentation.

  6. Create for each challenge three or four experimental ways of acting in the real world that might help you learn how to deal more effectively with each challenge.

At TLO, we  -- as experienced Thought Partners -- believe we have the knowledge, tools, and skills we'll need to be the guide and companion you'll need on the learning journey that's in front of you. If, after exploring the questions and issues introduced above, you agree, give us a call.