Creating a 'Thinking Environment'

Garden lantern , via  lapideo  on flickr.

Garden lantern, via lapideo on flickr.

Nancy Kline’s Time to Think was one of the first books I read about coaching, and it has had a profound effect on my work with groups and in one-to-one settings.  Kline believes that

everything we do depends for its quality on the thinking we do first. Our thinking depends on the quality of our attention for each other”.

Here’s her guidance on how to create a holistic setting which enables people to do their best thinking.

 The Ten Components of a Thinking Environment

  1. Attention – listening with respect, interest and fascination.

  2. Incisive questions – removing assumptions that limit ideas.

  3. Equality – Treating each other as thinking peers: giving equal turns and attention; keeping agreements and boundaries.

  4. Appreciation – practising five-to-one ratio of appreciation to criticism.

  5. Ease – Offering freedom from rush or urgency.

  6. Encouragement – moving beyond competition.

  7. Feelings – allowing sufficient emotional release to restore thinking.

  8. Information – providing a full and accurate picture of reality.

  9. Place – creating a physical environment that says back to people ‘you matter’.

  10. Diversity – adding quality because of the differences between us.

The ‘Thinking Environment’ in our work

As a coach or a facilitator, our job is to put these components in place, through the physical space we provide or tailor, through explaining the components and if needed training people in some of the skills and behaviours, and by modelling them in our own behaviour. 

Some of these things are obvious and easy to implement. Others are trickier and we need to learn them – crafting a good ‘incisive question’ elegantly and in real time takes practice.

When it comes to adding information, this might be done by the coach / facilitator, if they have information that the group or client doesn’t, but a content-neutral approach may mean that the coach / facilitator helps the group or client work out what information they need, and how to get it, ahead of time.

In our super busy lives, where we are expected to do things fast, giving enough time to the thinking environment may be one of our hardest challenges.

Try it out!

If you would like to experience this for yourself, the wonderful Linda Aspey is leading a day on climate change and ecological crisis, using a Thinking Environment approach. I am helping out, as is Jennifer Clark. Islington, London, UK. 8th May 2019 Details are here.

Find out more

For more on this, I recommend Kline’s seminal work “Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind”, Kline, Ward Lock 1999. You can find that book and other resources, including training courses, on the Time to Think website.

Making the Path by Walking

This post was first published in my Making the Path by Walking newsletter, April 2019. For practical tips on facilitation, organisational change and sustainability to your inbox each month, scroll down to the footer to subscribe.