How to create time to think, for yourself and others

I’ve just been on a training course with Nancy Kline, author of Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind and the updated version, More Time to Think: A Way of Being in the World.

These days, the leaders I work with all seem busier than ever. Often with back-to-back meetings, they have no time to think all day. So, this month, we explore the power of making time to think, for yourself and others.

How to create time to think, for yourself and others

“The greatest gift we can offer each other is the framework in which to think for ourselves.”
Nancy Kline

When we give someone our full attention, it allows their brain to operate at a higher level. Thoughts arrive in waves until they reach that ‘aha’ moment, and any intervention blocks the process. Yet research shows the longest delay that most people allow others to think before speaking is just 12 seconds!

Tempting though it is to add an insight or comment, we have to learn not to give our own opinion too quickly, and instead, to listen more. Some leaders may feel their job is directing and telling people what to do, and that they have to give their view in order to feel as though they are ‘in charge’. But the more you give your opinion, the more it disempowers the person you’re talking to.

Creating a Thinking Environment® is the first responsibility of leadership and a powerful framework for thinking. By creating time for others to think, they are more likely to resolve the issues that are on their mind. Here are some tools and techniques (developed by Nancy) that you can use, in order to enable your stakeholders, peers and direct reports to achieve better quality thoughts:

The Ten Components of a Thinking Environment

1. Attention
Listening with palpable respect and genuine interest, and without interruption

2. Equality
Treating each other as thinking peers. Even in a hierarchy, people can be equal as thinkers.

3. Ease
Offering freedom from internal rush or urgency

4. Appreciation
Practicing a 5:1 ratio of appreciation to criticism

5. Encouragement
Giving courage to go to the cutting edge of ideas by moving beyond internal competition

6. Feelings
Allowing sufficient emotional release to restore thinking

7. Information
Supplying the facts; dismantling denial. Facing what you have been denying leads to better thinking

8. Diversity
Welcoming divergent thinking and diverse group identities
[This fits with my recent article about innovation]

9. Incisive questionsTM
Removing assumptions that limit our ability to think for ourselves clearly and creatively

10. Place
Creating a physical environment that says back to people, ‘You matter.’

“Do not be fooled by the simplicity of this process. It can unleash the power of your whole organisation.”
Telecoms Executive

How to give your undivided, non-judgemental attention

Your role is to help the other person to think, so don’t let your desire to achieve a certain outcome get in the way. People relax when they know they are being listened to with respect, and are more likely to achieve a worthwhile shift that moves things forwards.

  • Trust that not uttering a word is the most effective thing you can do
  • Be aware that much of what they say is a reflection of your effect on them
  • Sit as still as you can, so you don’t distract their thought process
  • Take care that your body language doesn’t give away whether you agree or disagree with what’s being said
  • Don’t make noises such as ‘mmm’, ‘uhuh’ and ‘yep’, as these are implicit judgement statements
  • Keep eye-contact 100% of the time, even if the other person looks away as they talk
  • Cultivate an intense interest in what they will say next
  • Keep your energy and concentration high
  • Don’t interrupt; allow them to think for themself (it doesn’t matter if you know what they are going to say next; what matters is what happens for them because they say it)
  • Don’t write anything down; your role is simply to listen in order to help their thinking
  • Be comfortable in silence until they speak again; their next wave of thinking might be the most insightful (the fact that someone has stopped speaking doesn’t mean they’ve stopped thinking)
  • When they get to the key point for them, ask them to say it in fewer words so they can memorise it

Top tip: When facilitating team meetings, I might ask each person in turn: “What thoughts do you have?” By not interrupting and cutting off waves of thought, it keeps people engaged, raises the quality of ideas and is more likely to surface concerns.

Giving yourself time to think

“Great work is impossible without solitude.”

The quality of everything we do depends on the thinking we do first. Yet, in some cultures, ‘thinking for yourself’ is still a radical act. Lone geniuses are currently ‘out’ while collaboration is ‘in’. As stated in a new book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, open-plan offices and teamwork can stifle the creativity they are meant to encourage. In fact, people can be more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption.

Stopping to think is just so powerful. However, we are all time-starved and therefore thought-starved.

If you wake up in the middle of the night, that’s a warning sign that you’ve been too active during the day to process what’s on your mind. Rather than be constantly on the go, work out when you can fit time to think in your own lifestyle. If you’re an introvert, go somewhere quiet. If you’re an extrovert, find someone who will listen to you in the way recommended above.

Top tips: When you’re on a plane or the train, don’t work on your laptop or BlackBerry. Try switching off the radio when you drive. Walk round the block in your lunchbreak. Work from home from time to time.

In the context of my coaching methodology, I may ask these simple questions (inspired by Nancy’s teaching): “What are you thinking about?” or “What are your thoughts?” followed up by: “What more do you think or feel or want to say?” Introverts will probably think first, while extroverts will start talking straight away. Either way, I will give the coachee my 100% whole-hearted attention which enables them to experience a high-quality thinking environment.

I hope you agree with the value of taking time to think. Please let me know if you’d like to explore any of these ideas further.

Next month, we look at employee engagement.