Friday 30 June 2023

Coaching in a Thinking Environment

So this Thinking Environment… It springs from the work of Nancy Kline and is founded on a profound belief in the capacity of the human mind to think outstandingly well - given the right conditions.

This seems to me to be a core skill for a coach: to enable the person we are working with to think independently at his or her very best. Thinking independently is thinking as ourselves and for ourselves.

Kline's thesis is that we do this primarily by paying the person being coached a level of attention that is rare in daily life; and that such attention is generative of good thinking. The idea is, the quality of the individual’s thinking,  is (at least in part) a product of the quality of attention that we give them.

In Time to Think, and its successor, More Time to Think, Kline describes ten components of a Thinking Environment. 

The first, and the most important, of the components is attention. Attention of the quality we mean here is simple, but difficult - and rare. It consists of giving your whole attention to the person that you are listening to.

That means, amongst other things:
  • removing all distractions (eg electronic devices with alerts…),
  • refraining from taking notes whilst the individual is thinking,
  • keeping a 'soft gaze' (of interest and encouragement) on the person’s face (though the person thinking may, of course, look wherever he or she chooses), 
  • not thinking about how you will respond or what wise question you will ask next, 
  • and above all, not interrupting.
In fact, even when someone stops talking, we refrain from interrupting the silence, as he or she may still be thinking. Thinking comes in waves, and the freshest thinking often arises after a pause. Such attention is so rare that it may feel like a luxury, or even feel uncomfortable; but it does seem to support really good thinking. 

The other nine components are equally rich, but I will not describe them all here, as it would make this a very long post. 

Coaching in this way is very different from many approaches. It takes seriously the assumption that the individual is more likely to come up with good solutions than the coach; the coach's role is to provide the environment - the Thinking Environment - in which that is most likely to happen.  I have blogged before about a specific example of this.

If you want to explore this further, I have a few places left on my next Thinking Partnership Programme (14/15 Sept and 13 Oct) here in the glorious Lake District.  Don't hesitate to get in touch if you want to know more, or have a look at my website, here.

Tuesday 20 June 2023

Pedagogy of the Heart

"But it's simply not true!" the senior leader told me. "We consult them all the time!" He was frustrated - and bruised - by the Staff Survey; and some of the specifics, like a complaint from Department Heads that they were never consulted, particularly rankled.

I bit my tongue. And he calmed down a little, and continued to think. "We could, I suppose, do a sort of You said we did piece of comms work?..." He looked at me for my response. I looked back at him.

"You're right" he said, although I had said (and I think indicated) nothing. I think he was probably talking to himself. "That would merely demonstrate that we don't listen - which is just what they are complaining about.  Logic isn't really going to cut it here.  If I have learned one thing, it is that you can't argue when people are emotionally upset. And whatever the specifics, I think the message of this survey is that they are upset - or downright angry might be nearer the mark...."

I continued to listen, completely fascinated.

"So what do we do?  What would I want the senior team to do if I were in their shoes - angry, frustrated, feeling under-valued?  Because that's what this is really about. The specifics may be wrong (or not entirely true, to be really fair...), but if they want to give us a good kicking, that's where it's coming from."

I wondered where he was going with this.

He continued to think out loud, considering when and by whom he had felt valued, when he had worked as a Department Head. He concluded that it was a particular leader who had made time for him; who had listened to him without telling him what to do, but had been ready to warn him if he was considering something really unwise...;  who had taken risks, championing his ideas... and he realised that he and his colleagues were generally too busy to do that. Because there was always so much to be done - so many problems to address, crises to attend to, decisions to be made and communicated.  And then he stopped short.

"That's it! That's what we've got to do. We've got to shift our attention - in fact our intention - from making things happen (which is what drives the perception that we are too 'command and control') to enabling great leadership. We've staffed this place up with good people but we don't let them get on with it. If we do that, they will start to feel that we believe in them and value them. And I'm sure that's where we need to start. So my job is to coach my senior team into doing that."

He visibly relaxed.

"Thank you Andrew: that has been so helpful. I always find your advice really valuable!"

I thanked him and smiled inwardly. The advice had certainly been valuable, but it was his advice to himself. I had just co-created the Thinking Environment in which he had developed it.

As I reflected on the session, the phrase Pedagogy of the Heart came to mind, so I wrote this blog post.


With thanks to Yogendra Singh and Tim Marshall for sharing their photos on Unsplash