I recently had the privilege of spending a day in the company of Nancy Kline, author of Time to Think. I use Nancy’s work extensively and I like to introduce leaders and teams to the Thinking Environment and Thinking Partnerships. This was the first time I got to meet Nancy, experience a Thinking Environment created by her and witness her in a number of Thinking Conversations. What an honour and what a learning experience!
Nancy’s work is centred around generating great thinking. Since this was a masterclass we did not spend much time on the 10 components of a thinking environment, but instead explored Thinking Conversations deeply.
A Thinking Conversation is a conversation where you play the role of a mostly silent thinking partner in order to support someone’s generative thinking. Your job is to simply listen with exquisite attention. You ask the minimum of questions, the questions are without context, you do not interrupt and you don’t offer advice. You simply listen without judgment, completely devoted and enthralled by the thinking the other is doing. Listening like this creates a silent but rich atmosphere that stimulates thinking. The quality of your listening causes the quality of their thinking.
My biggest takeaways:
- Generative thinking really benefits from a promise to not interrupt. Ever.
- Our role as a thinking partner is to be fascinated by where the thinker will go next – what will the next thoughts be?
- When we ask a question to encourage thinking, for instance, “what else are you thinking or feeling” we always ask with the hope that this is the last question we need to ask in order to generate thinking. In different words, as a thinking partner we don’t have a set of questions we would like to get through.
- There is so much more thinking going on than is expressed at any time. One cannot hope to have enough of a grasp on it to aid the other’s problem solving. True aid comes from supporting thinking through listening.
I left the session with the renewed undertaking not to interrupt when others are thinking out loud. And by once again dreaming about a world where we listen to one another, truly listen. And therefore bring into being a level of thinking not known by most of the world today. Oh, what would be possible!