Friday 24 November 2023

Reflect or don't look back?...

Yesterday evening I was singing Vespers with the Schola Cantorum (Gregorian Chant choir) that I lead. Vespers, for those few of my readers who may not have been recently, consists largely of five psalms, a hymn and the Magnificat. The psalms are deceptively difficult: chanted largely on one note, each half line has a lightly decorated ending - each with the same pattern, but with the precise notes varying according to the number of syllables in the final words of the phrase, thus:

The bottom line is that you really need to pay attention (particularly if slightly under-rehearsed as we were last night) or you come a cropper.

And if you do trip over your words and notes, the very worst thing you can do is allow that to occupy your attention, or you will surely trip over the next line ending, too.  (Guess who did this last night...)  So don't look back is the order of the day: stay absolutely focused on the present moment.

I think that applies to all music-making; certainly at the level I practice it. Which, in part, is why it is of such tremendous value, akin to meditation in that way.

Yet, in so much of my work I am an advocate of reflective practice. Obviously, as in my famous sandwich analogy, there is value in reflection after the event, to learn for next time; and that applies as much to music as to anything else. 

But I also strive to practice - and to teach - reflection-in-action. Thus in facilitation, for example, I think it is valuable to work rapidly through a set of considerations before doing or saying anything as a facilitator. 

My current working set is: 

That first question is clearly a moment of reflection; and I think an important one.  If I do not take stock of the fact that something has changed in the group dynamic, my next intervention is likely to be (at best) sub-optimal.

And yet, as Nancy Kline would insist, I think that offering my generative attention to the group is also essential at every moment; keeping my focus on the here and now, just as when singing or playing an instrument. 

Nancy talks of giving 100% of our attention to listening, and 100% to managing the process, and 100% to our response, all of the time. She calls that a paradox, and I think it an impossible ideal.

So how do I make sense of all that?  I am still wrestling with it. (As my more perceptive readers will have realised, my blog posts are often my way of musing on topics that stimulate my curiosity). But perhaps there is something valuable in the idea of waves and pauses that may help here. 

During a wave (singing a psalm, listening to a thought being developed) the focus must be on the here and now, with no looking back (or forward). But there are pauses: between psalms, at the end of someone's utterance; and it is at those moments that one can do a lightning reflection, in order to surf the next wave with complete attention.

And, it occurs to me as I write, that this is where intuition has a role, when understood as the practical wisdom that springs from cumulative experience that has been reflected on and polished so that it is near-habitual. It offers us a very rapid hypothesis in answer to (at least) the fourth question, meaning that we can move through the considerations to a practical outcome very quickly and reasonably reliably.

At least, that's what i think right now - but I feel the need to go away and reflect on it...

Wednesday 22 November 2023

Equality in Coaching

When I started coaching, I was courteously deferential. It was, after all, how I had been brought up. And it was not as lame as perhaps it sounds. I established very good working relationships with clients, and that is one of the foundations of an effective coaching relationship.

Nonetheless, as I got more experienced, read more, and did more CPD I understood how important challenge and confrontation can be in the coaching relationship, and worked to develop my skills in those areas, to good effect. In particular, I got good at the challenging question and the long silence; and again that proved useful.

Now, having adopted Nancy Kline's Thinking Environment as a primary approach in most of my coaching, I see my role somewhat differently. I strive to create the conditions in which individuals challenge and confront themselves, their own thinking and emotions, and their assumptions. 

One of the components of the Thinking Environment is Equality. Bearing that in mind, one might criticise my initial style (deferential) as risking putting me in a one-down relationship vis-à-vis my clients.  Likewise my second style (confrontative) might risk my assuming a one-up position (that is also the problem of the wise coach who offers advice, another role that I can find very tempting).

But that also raises the question of whether coaching in a Thinking Environment is really a partnership of equals. Nancy Kline is very clear (eg in More Time to Think) that the purest version of the Thinking Environment is the Thinking Partnership, when each person gives the other a chance to think. And in developing the Mentoring Process, she learned that she needed to include a thinking session for the Mentor, in order for Mentees to feel equal. But in coaching we clearly don't do that.

And then I had one of those flashes of brilliance, for which I am rightly renowned: a blinding flash of the obvious.  Equality need not mean sameness. In this context the equality is in service of clients' learning. So the clients' role is to bring their expertise to bear on the issues they face, knowing themselves, their context and so on far better than the coach can; whilst my role as a coach is to bring my expertise to bear on the process: creating and sustaining the Thinking Environment that will stimulate and support my clients to do their own very best thinking.

Both roles and associated skills are equally important to the success of the session.

So that's all right.

Friday 10 November 2023

Why are rounds so effective at creating psychological safety?

On my recent Thinking Environment Facilitation Skills programme, I was thinking, with the participants, about the reasons that we normally start any group meeting in Thinking Environment with a series of rounds.

One reason is simply that a round is a quick and efficient way of getting everyone to introduce themselves early on, and indeed to speak early on (there's some truth in the idea that you haven't really arrived at a meeting until you have spoken - or possibly  until you have been listened to).

Secondly, rounds are very illustrative of some foundational Thinking Environment components. We always introduce them by inviting people to pay attention to whoever is speaking, and to refrain from interrupting (both the person speaking, and the round itself: nobody speaks a second time until everyone has spoken once). As well as Attention, rounds emphasise Equality in the very practical sense of giving everyone an equal opportunity to contribute. We also encourage people not to tail-gate, to start to introduce that sense of Ease - freedom from urgency - that is another component.

Further, if you get your initial question right, people often share something that is personal to themself; and that starts to enable human connection to be made between people, and the possibility of some Appreciation.

But then I found myself thinking further - that's the risk of all this Thinking Environment stuff. Experience suggests that having several rounds, inviting ever more disclosure (and Attention, Ease and Equality) quickly establishes a high level of psychological safety. And my new hypothesis is that it may be something to do with the Gestalt Cycle of Contact (about which I have blogged previously here).

The obvious similarity between a round and a cycle was what got me started, and my theory is now that there is something psychologically satisfying about a completed Gestalt cycle. So a series of rounds offers particpants that psychological satisfaction repeatedly and reliably, contributing to that sense of safety. Further, the facilitator who facilitates that demonstrates that he or she is competent: saying what we'll do, doing it, and that resulting in a satisfying outcome; and doing that repeatedly.

As I say, this is a new hypothesis I am thinking about, so I'll be interested in others' thoughts.

Monday 6 November 2023

Posts about the Thinking Environment

Over the last few years, I have written a number of posts about the Thinking Environment.

This post is an index, so that a relevant post may be easily found.  I will update it as I write future posts, so that it will remain the easiest way to locate anything I have written on this topic.


Where do we stand?


Reflecting on Meditating

Generative Attention 


Listening, Difference and Psychological Safety (how listening can dissolve conflict)


Coaching in a Thinking Environment

Coaching in a Thinking Environment

The Power of Not Interrupting

Person-centred coaching and the risk of collusion

Coaching and the Risk of Collusion (Re-visited)  

More Time to Think (reflections on initial coaching conversations/contracting)

Equality in Coaching 

          DIY? (Why it is helpful to have someone else there while you think) 

Joe, Harry and Nancy (The Johari Window and the Thinking Partnership)


Another Day at the Collegiate 


Diversity Workshop 


Ease and Discomfort

Adrenaline or Peace? 

 Doing and Being 

Emotional Intelligence and the Thinking Environment:

The Genos Model

David Rock's SCARF model 


Equality in Coaching 

Eye Movement

The Eyes Have It!

Facilitation in a Thinking Environment

Invisible Facilitation

Listening and Power 

Still Playing with the Kline Approach

That 'What more?" Question 

Learning from Failure 

Sticking to the Process

Human Connection 

Flip Me!

Why are Rounds so Effective at Creating Psychological Safety? 

 The Foundation Programme - Facilitating Groups Brilliantly (a plug for, and brief description of, the Foundation Programme)

Doing and Being 




Gestalt and the Thinking Environment

Gestalt and the Thinking Environment (commonalities and differences)

More thoughts on Gestalt and the Thinking Environment (contact, attention, and blocks)

A(nother) blinding flash of the obvious (Waves of thinking and the Gestalt Cycle of Contact)

Why are Rounds so Effective at Creating Psychological Safety?  


Humour in the Thinking Environment 



Introductory posts

The Thinking Partnership Programme 

How do you help others to think outstandingly well?    

 On the Receiving End... 


Listening in a Thinking Environment

Listening beyond... 

Interrupting myself 

From the Other End... 

Listening and Power  


That 'What more?" Question 

How Open is that Question? 

A Mistaken Attribution

The Power of Listening 

Pedagogy of the Heart 

How Does That Help? ('That' being listening...) 

Listening, Difference and Psychological Safety (how listening can dissolve conflict)


The Importance of Place 

Thinking about Place - and Humility

Questions in the Thinking Environment

A Defining Question


Questioning (and questions about...) the Thinking Environment

Person-centred coaching and the risk of collusion

Coaching and the Risk of Collusion (Re-visited) 

 Thinking about the Thinking Environment (in the light of Kahneman, and the assumption that people will act on their thinking...)

Thinking Fast and Slow (the challenges of Kahneman, and the component of Information) 

Is Understanding Over-rated? (Comparing Nancy Kline's approach to listening with Kathryn Mannix's approach)

NeuroDiversity and the Thinking Environment  

On Self-Disclosure

          DIY? (Why it is helpful to have someone else there while you think) 


Supervision in a Thinking Environment (coaching)

PhD Supervision in a Thinking Environment  

Thinking Council

The Thinking Council

Understanding in a Thinking Environment 

On the Value of Not Understanding

Is Understanding Over-rated? (Comparing Nancy Kline's approach to listening with Kathryn Mannix's approach)

Seeking to Understand (1)  (what if we are never going to agree?...)

Seeking to Understand (2) 

Seeking to Understand (3) 

Seeking to Understand (4) 

Wilful Blindness and the Thinking Environment  (Margaret Heffernan joined us for a meeting)