Time to Think

by Michael Mallows

By way of a book review


Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind by Nancy Kline
Paperback  /  Cassell Illustrated  /  December 1998  /  0706377451 9.99

This book provides one of the most elegant and effective models for improving communication that I have ever encountered! It offers a wonderfully empowering framework for improving the quality and enriching the process of interpersonal and intrapersonal communication.

So compelling is the model, that some of the components and all of the principles that make up the Thinking Environment now determine the structure and process of all my training. My therapeutic work with families is more dynamic than ever it was, and my individual coaching and supervision sessions generate more insights and far greater functional  and emotional intelligence.

As key-note speaker at a couple of up-coming conferences, I will be demonstrating, by example, the ease and efficacy of a Thinking Environment.  

The ten components of a Thinking Environment are:

1,   Attention

Listening with respect, attention and fascination: Imagine (or remember) how it feels to have the fully engaged attention of another person as you express your aspirations and anxieties. You speak with no expectations of criticisms, evaluations, interruptions, discounts, disagreements or anything else that, in effect, is a judgement of some kind about your intelligence, your morality, your wisdom, your right to dream, your urge to be audacious!  

2.    Incisive Questions

Removing assumptions that limit ideas

Imagine (or recall) after you have poured out your grand vision or your sense of bewilderment or belittlement, being asked questions that help you to cut through the tangled weeds of your patterned thinking and to see something with greater clarity and focus. Like a fog dissolving.  

3.   Equality

Treating each other as thinking peers

 Imagine being invited, included, involved, and treated as if other people truly value your input. That even your clumsy, inchoate thoughts are allowed space and given respect.  

4.   Appreciation

Practicing a five-to-one ratio of appreciation to criticism

Imagine - or practice - noticing what works well, that you 'catch people being good', that you really appreciate colleagues or clients, rather than judge them for results or failings but for their intent, for their tenacity, for their resilience, even if, at first, they still run the same patterns because they are still constructing and construing their world with the same assumptions and paradigms.  

5.   Ease

Offering freedom from rush or urgency

Imagine giving people the time and, perhaps more importantly in a frantic world, the generosity of spirit, that allows them to say, to share, to be, to feel and express where they've come from, where they are and where they hope or fear to go.  

6.   Encouragement

Moving beyond competition

Consider not imposing your disagreement, your different perspective, your need to interrupt, to Be Right, to make them Wrong, to challenge, compare, correct, coerce, persuade, convince, all of which are forms of competition - for space, the moral high ground, the centre stage, the Top Dog position.

7.   Feelings

Allowing sufficient emotional release to restore thinking

Enable and encourage affect; all too often people who work with, or, indeed, live with (young) people do everything they can to restrict and restrain healthy expressions of the full range of human feelings and emotions. This, sadly and ironically, is more so with people in the helping, caring, listening professions than any other. There will be many ways of explaining (discounting or denying) this, so I should qualify it by saying that I base that statement on over 30 years working with people in the 'people business' and it may only be true of most of the many hundreds of people that I meet in an average year.  

8.   Information

Providing a full and accurate picture of reality

Kline asks that we provide a full and accurate picture of reality. As I lean toward the idea that 'there is no Reality, only Perception' i.e. we each create unique, subjective models of the world, based on the memories and meanings we call upon, the dreams and disappointments that move us towards or away from ideas, people, places, events, possibilities, responsibilities, risks, our own or other people's liberating or limiting beliefs and values.

I would rather aim for helping people to think clearly and logically at the same time as being aware and authentic (see Feelings, above), and able to accept, observe and listen to other people's feelings with compassion not pity.  

9.   Place

Creating a physical environment that says back to people, 'You matter.'

This has implications for the local environment. What images or colours adorn the walls? What sounds and background noises are acceptable? Who decides? Who gets to choose? By what criteria are decisions made? How does this person feel welcomed by the posters? The smells? The textures?  

10.  Diversity

Adding quality because of the differences between us

Diversity: As always, and threaded through everything, are issues of difference and diversity. Too many people say (pretend?) they are worried about causing offence if they say or do such and such.  They are afraid to ask or to admit ignorance, or to engage in open discussion about the obvious e.g. pigmentation, different abilities, gender or sexual orientation. The deny, discount, dump, withdraw, silk, take umbrage or take a stance on issues of diversity, more often than not because they see, hear, feel that 'talking about it just stirs up problems'  - or some similar avoidance tactic.

I see diversity as a source of abundance and enrichment. I want to explore your maps and then, if you have the time and energy, if you can be bothered, if you see the value, then I'd like to share my ideas and values. We may discover that we have diametrically opposed views. We may discover that we have no values in common, that our maps start in different places and are heading in different directions. Each of us may leave the other, just as convinced as when we started, that 'my map is the territory', but that we reached out to each other, that we could be bothered to gave each other space - and maybe the benefit of the doubt - we may have had enough emotional intelligence to have created a thinking environment.  

Incisive Questions

Removing assumptions that limit ideas

To return for a moment to the second point, above, and how to question and remove limiting assumption,  the tenacious and often unconscious assumptions that limit ideas and restrict clear and critical thinking. I am currently running a series of Clear and Critical Thinking and Decision Making training programmes for senior managers in a number of Local Authorities. It ought to be strange, or at least surprising - but sadly it is neither! - that people who have climbed the corporate ladder may never have thought deeply about, let alone had training in what they have to do all day and every day, i.e. how to think clearly and logically, with a rational objectivity.

When people at every level don't think too well, and don't know how to teach that skill to others, it is all the more difficult to teach young people - even if only by example rather than coaching or formal training - how to question and remove limiting assumptions. And yet, it is ever more important!  

I will be recommending this accessible, readable, enjoyable and truly enlightening book to almost everyone and I strongly encourage you to beg, buy or borrow it, learn from it, and become a (an even more) powerful agent of change!   

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Michael Mallows is a Management Consultant, Group Worker, Therapist, Supervisor, Adoption Consultant, Coach and Mentor; also an Author, Lyricist, Public Speaker, Team Builder and Workshop Presenter. [Click on any of the links to learn more about him and his activities] His website is www.mallows.co.uk and Email: michaelmallows@btinternet.com