Friday 22 January 2016

Time to Think

I have blogged a bit recently about some of the fascinating reading I have been doing as part of my diploma, such as the books on the psychology of coaching by Brown and Brown, and Peter Bluckert. I mentioned my intention to be more psychologically aware in my coaching as a result, and believe that is useful.

However, I am also a great believer in simplicity, and in particular a fan of Nancy Kline's book, Time to Think.  Kline's thesis is that in a thinking conversation, the quality of someone's thinking is directly related to the quality of attention of the listener.  She offers a deceptively simple structure for a 'Thinking Session.' The challenge is to stick to that structure, and pay full attention to the other person throughout - refraining from interjecting, asking questions that pursue what you are interested in, offering suggestions, etc.  If the person you are listening to asks you a question, it can help to assume that it is rhetorical. Acknowledge it (perhaps non-verbally with a smile etc), and wait in silence for him or her to answer it himself or herself. Attention and silence are key tools in this approach to helping the other to think. There are other steps, especially if the person is blocked by some assumption he or she is making, but the bulk of the session is predicated on this highly attentive listening.

My belief in the power of Kline's approach was underlined this week. I was co-running an event for professors at a University, and I gave them the opportunity to do some co-coaching using Kline's approach. Afterwards, those doing the coaching reported how difficult they had found it to refrain from chipping in with their own anecdotes, expressions of commonality, words of wisdom or advice - and how much further the conversation had gone as a result.

My experience, too, is that Kline's approach can be extremely powerful. Yet clearly, if I am trying to assess what the psychological state of the other might be, and what intervention might be most helpful, I am not giving the individual the full attention that Kline suggests.

Likewise, I am aware how disruptive it can be to the train of thought of the other person if I start to make suggestions, or offer alternative ways of looking at things, during their thinking time. Yet clearly, those may be helpful interventions too; part of what people want from a coach is another perspective.

So my interim position on this is that I will do all the thinking about the psychological aspects of the coaching before the session, as I prepare, and after the session, as I review it, and again (in some cases) with my coaching supervisor. But during the session, I will try to give that quality of completely focused attention to the other person. In time, I am hoping that the psychological awareness will become simply part of what is available to me as I attend to the other, but I don't think it is helpful to allow it to dominate my thinking as I coach, if that distracts from being fully present and fully attentive. 

And with regard to making suggestions or alternative ways of looking at things, I will strive to keep that till the closing stages of the session, once a lot of serious listening has already taken place.

 I would be very interested to hear other coaches' views on this.

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