There have been lots of reviews of Nancy Kline’s classic exploration of what conditions, when brought together skilfully, are conducive to bringing out the best in human thinking and igniting the human mind. So what can I add that hasn’t already been said?
What about my own point of view…? I’m sure Nancy would agree that this is precisely what I should be encouraged to contribute, given her definition of what she terms a ‘Thinking Environment’. In a Thinking Environment, the ideas and inspirations of all are equally valued, and Nancy spent long years researching how practically to establish such an environment. It is to creating one across society that her life’s work has been devoted.
In Time to Think. Listening to Ignite the Human Mind (first published 1999), Nancy describes ten components without which a Thinking Environment will not exist:
- Attention – listening with respect, interest and fascination
- Incisive Questions – removing assumptions that limit ideas
- Equality – treating each other as thinking peers by giving equal turns and attention in discussions, and keeping agreements and boundaries
- Appreciation – practising a five-to-one ratio of appreciation to criticism
- Ease – offering freedom from rush or urgency
- Encouragement – moving beyond competition
- Feelings – allowing sufficient emotional release to restore thinking
- Information – providing a full and accurate picture of reality
- Place – creating a physical environment that says back to people, “You matter”
- Diversity – adding quality because of the differences between us
Through engaging narrative and lucid exhortation, Nancy takes us on a journey of discovery that convinced me for one, of the value her programme can bring to the sum total of human insight and knowledge. However, if I could choose the single most important lesson which impressed me most, it is the fact that trying to apply even one of these ten components will revolutionise the communication experience.
Over time you’ll get to know that I’m all for simple, easy-to-remember programmes. When I’d finished reading the book I thought, “Right. Which of these components shall I go for as the one recommendation that will provide a step-change in the way I relate to others and they relate to me?”
I went back to basics. What can any individual provide for any other individual which lets that person know they’re really valued? Which improves the level of understanding and trust between the two? Which signals, “Yes, what you think is important, intelligent, insightful and valuable…”
For me, the key Action Point related to Attention.
Listening with respect, interest and fascination – which means to provide the kind of supportive, safe, warm, inspiring silence that allows the other person to delve deep within her- or himself to find the questions, the answers, the follow-on questions, and the answers to the answers… All those questions and answers that are hidden from consciousness but reside deep within the individual ready to be drawn out in the presence of calming, liberating Attention.
Listening and silence…
This is not easy. It can mean challenge, the uncovering of deep hurt and distress, railing against the gods, unpicking of suspicions that may be decades old… It may not be comfortable just to sit and listen. Not to interrupt. Truly listening without interrupting, or following one’s own inner narrative, or following some ephemeral idea down its own developmental path – that’s very difficult for those habituated to ‘fixing’ or ‘telling’ when faced with disquiet.
The good news is that my efforts have been worthwhile. Concentrating on just this one key component has opened up a whole new vista in communication. Silence is indeed golden, as it allows deep thought, contemplation, inner discourse, and the plumbing of depths which The Thinker probably never knew existed. In families, workplaces, coaching sessions – in all these places, cultivating listening of the utmost quality and silence, imbued with the highest respect, will pay dividends.
If only one thing could bring about a sense of being valued, it would be to be listened to in silence, uninterrupted. As Nancy puts it:
“Listening of this calibre ignites the human mind.
The quality of your attention determines the quality of other people’s thinking.”
Nancy Kline has written other books on applications of the Thinking Environment. If you’d like to learn more about her ideas and activities, take a look at the website of her organisation, Time to Think.