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.

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