It took just 10 minutes for Tony to decide whether to hire an experienced manager or someone less experienced who had the potential to develop and become his successor. Yet this decision had been playing on Tony’s mind for over a month. It had kept him awake at night and he was under pressure from the Board to make this decision and hire this new team member.

Tony made his well thought through decision based on the provision of a Thinking Environment® – an environment in which he could think for himself.

Nancy Kline, the pioneer of the Thinking Environment has observed we live in two worlds of thinking – the world of exchange thinking and the world of independent thinking. It is the world of independent thinking that enabled Tony to achieve clarity and feel confident about his decision. To facilitate a world of independent thinking is a gift we can ALL give to others.

Tony had to make an important decision – one that would impact his role, his own future, his team and his organisation. It was critical for him to feel confident about the decision he was about to make and that it be the best for the organisation. What did he need from me, as his coach? I knew that he had the resources within him to make this decision. I also knew that the gift I could give him was an environment in which to think for himself. Rather than one where I would listen to him, offer my own thoughts before he had thought fully for himself – after all he knew the situation and consequences he faced far better than I.

One of the key components of creating a Thinking Environment® is our ability to listen, really listen. Nancy Kline distinguishes a listening to reply and listening to ignite.   What Tony needed from me was a listening to ignite.

It is our attention that differentiates a listening to ignite. Attention is one thing our mind cannot multi task. This is key for managers, leaders and coaches to know. It is vital for parents to know. We cannot do other things and listen at the same time. Our children, whatever age, need us to listen to them – really listen to them.

This type of attention requires 4 key elements. Firstly, we offer equality suggesting we are equal as thinkers. We do this by asking the question ‘what are your thoughts [for Tony] about whether you hire an experienced manager or someone with less experience?’ With this question we have invited him to begin thinking for himself.

Secondly, we listen without interruption. Most of us listen to another just long enough to take in what they say to come up with a response. We listen to comment, to advise, to diagnose or to direct. In this moment, we are out of step with the other person and they can see that we are waiting to speak rather than listening to where they go next. When someone is listened to without interruption, they just got lucky. When someone knows – knows they will not be interrupted – their mind is able to relax and paradoxically fire up new thinking.

Thirdly, we get interested, really interested in what the person will say next and silently ask ‘how much further can you think? And how much further than that before you need my thoughts?’ Our follow up question generates more independent thinking with ‘what more do you think, or feel or want to say?’

Fourthly, we also notice our response to what the person is saying and then quieten that response – once more to offer our full attention.

Within 10 minutes Tony had thought through his decision with clarity, the impact it would have on all those affected and a way forward including how he would deal with any potential challenge to his decision.   Furthermore he felt confident about his decision. My role paradoxically was essential and yet irrelevant. Offering our attention is one of the most valuable gifts we can give another human being – a gift to help them think well for themselves.

If you would like to experience a Thinking Environment® to achieve more for yourself – please contact me here or leave me any questions you might have in the comments box below.