On the Practice of Cognitive Interviewing, Cognitive Coaching, and Text Analysis

Cognitive interviewing is an art as well as science nowhere taught or practiced today. It is a kind of evidence-based interviewing that is anchored in dialectical listening. In focus in such listening are the thought forms a person uses as soon as s(he) opens her mouth, which are thus inescapable. Only a listener/thinker schooled in DTF (or an equivalent frameworks of complex thinking) can catch them, for a wide variety of purposes ranging from consulting and coaching to political debate and the comparative analysis of texts.

Thought forms reflect the structure of mind-in-action in dialog, which is the only medium in which mind is truly mind (rather than a kind of control system).

As this implies, cognitive interviewing is dialogical, meaning that while witnessing an individual’s or team’s social-emotional and cognitive process in real time, it is simultaneously guiding these processes from a detached and critical point of view informed by being aware of thought forms. Thought forms are patterns that guide “movements-in-thought” as they spontaneously and often unconsciously arise. But instead of focusing on the content thought forms carry (the “What” of speech), dialectical attention remains focused on the thought forms themselves (the “How-it-is-thought” of speech). As a consequence, the degree of complexity of thinking expressed through thought forms is easily determined and critiqued.

Dialectical listening, just as dialectical thinking, has two dimensions: breadth-first and depth-first search. While breadth-first search is oriented to Bhaskar’s moments of dialectic (CPRT: Context, Process, Relationship, and Transformation), depth-first search leads into the depth of individual moments and the configurations they form in real time, meta-critically speaking into the absence of, and missing links between, thought forms in a person’s thinking.


In the practice of IDM — which is influenced by the Frankfurt School and Roy Baskar’s critical ontology — this approach to thinking and listening is grounded in DTF, the Dialectical Thought Form Framework. The framework derives from a synthesis of research on adults’ cognitive development over the lifespan by M. Basseches (1984), Roy Bhaskar (1993), and Eliott Jaques (1998), put in place by their student, Otto Laske, in 2008.

While yielding a comprehensive set of cognitive scores (e.g., a thinking fluidity index) when used in assessment, the dialectical thought-form approach, once mastered, is foremost an enabler of — guided and/or critically supervised — team dialog in real time. The approach is based on the inner dialog every thinker/speaker carries out with him- or herself, either before or during speaking, or after speaking in reflection.

DTF captures a thinker/speaker’s internal dialog that typically escapes attention. Dialog with others (external dialog) is seen as based on the dialog of an individual with him- or herself. In contrast to other cognitive tools in use at the present time, DTF is neither primarily profile-oriented (to a particular person or team) nor is it task-based (oriented to a person’s tasks). However, it is easily oriented to a team’s specific task where DTF tools create the experience of mind-opening into hidden dimensions of a subject matter (such as strategy or decision making). This entails that DTF evaluations, whether of individuals or teams, are oriented to the thought-form structure of a person’s or team’s dialog with a DTF expert in real time.


How can complex, dialectical thinking best be learned? According to our experience at IDM, certainly not by reading or memorizing books! In our teaching practice, the royal road to learning complex thinking based on thought forms is through semi-structured interviewing. This is so since it is easier to study the cognitive structure of speech when listening to others than to oneself. We speak of an emphatically “cognitive” interview whose mastery requires deep practice of DTF thought forms.

Very naturally, cognitive interviewing, once learned, gives rise to cognitive coaching in which the coach focuses on what is absent from the client’s thinking in terms of dialectical thought forms, moving clients toward holistic and systemic thinking. The client’s cognitively impoverished way of using concepts in his/her internal dialog is the coaching material.

A third kind of cognitive intervention grounded in DTF is dialectical text analysis which derives from the analysis of recorded cognitive interviews in terms of DTF (Basseches 1984). This discipline has been decidedly developed further by Bruno Frischherz, Luzern, Switzerland, based on his studies of DTF, beginning in 2012.

The texts below introduce to the DTF-based interventions discussed above.


On Cognitive Interviewing (Laske 2008)

This text introduces to the process and structure of the DTF cognitive interview which is seen as a tool for researching clients’ internal workspace. The notion is that to ‘understand’ clients, the coach must engage in qualitative research on the client’s developmental profile, nothing less. (An other-dependent view such as “I know my client from my own life and work” leads to unprofessional illusions.) The slides present an outline of the background theory of the “Three Houses” that give structure and purpose to the interview and guarantee its richness. The text is an excerpt from Laske’s volume 2, chapter 9 (2008), on Measuring Hidden Dimensions of Human Systems.

CDF Entry Level Program for Coaches (Laske 2012)

This slide set spells out the IDM philosophy of developmental coaching as an evidence-based discipline. The program is focused on the coach, not the client (who, without the coach’s access to empirical data about him or her, is only a figment of the latter’s imagination). The slide set makes evident that the purpose of the IDM program is to educate coaches as holistic and reflective practitioners who are able to understand three client profiles equally well, both theoretically and practically: the psychological (or “Need/Press”) one, the social-emotional, and the cognitive one. In the coaching industry as it now exists, this goal has never been reached.

Dialectical Thinking and Text Analysis (Ulmer & Frischherz 2012)

This text by K. Ulmer and B. Frischherz demonstrates dialcctical text analysis used for determining the complexity of thinking embodied in texts, whether interview, texts, mission statement, policy papers, or what not. Text analysis lends itself to text comparisons in terms of their way of dealing with complexity, thus also their degree of critical realism relative to the real world. In this document, the DTF method of text analysis is used to compare two papers on Green Economy.

DTF Thought Forms Exemplified (Iva Vurdelja 2013)

This text presents Dr. Vurdelja’s exemplification of each of 28 individual DTF thought forms (TFs) along with associated probing questions (mind openers).

Cognitive Coaching Practice Materials (2013)

This texts provide material for learning cognitive coaching in the framework of Laske’s DTF, as well as material required for using DTF in assessment and assessment-based coaching.

Introduction to Cognitive Coaching (Laske & Frischherz 2014)

This slide set discusses the tools necessary for mastering the cognitive interview and its evaluation. In this context, DTF, the Dialectical Thought Form Framework, becomes a repertory of mind openers called “thought forms” for use with clients in real time. Rather than being a “tool kit”, DTF is a framework for deep thinking whose primary purpose is the transformation of its user, and that of clients only in so far as the user has already been transformed by becoming aware of the structure of his/her thinking.

From AQAL to AQAT: Dialog in an Integral Perspective (Frischherz 2014)

In this slide set (presented at the 2014 Integral Conference, Budapest, Hungary), B. Frischherz views the central topic of CDF as that of dialog; he notes the missing ‘You’ in integral theory. He thereby points to the purely monological character of Wilber’s theory in contrast to the dialogical form of thinking practiced throughout CDF, The Constructive Developmental Framework.

DTF Thought Form Cards (Possert 2015)

This slide text presents Bernhard Possert’s visualization of DTF thought forms (‘Cards’) for use in learning and practicing dialectical thinking, one card per thought form (TF). Each TF  is detailed as a mind opener in terms of the dialog questions it gives rise to both in internal and external dialogs.


For the function of coaching in supporting self organization in teams, see the introduction to the book “Dynamic Collaboration” by De Visch & Laske (2018), found at https://interdevelopmentals.org/foreword-to-accelerating-collaborative-intelligence-in-teams-how-to-manage-the-transition-to-self-organization/