Rachael isn’t happy working as part of her current team. She talked for 10 minutes about the issues she is facing. David (her manager and coach) continued listening with palpable respect and without interruption.
She continued, “I don’t want to run away. I want to contribute and play my part in making this team a success.”
David still didn’t interrupt.
Rachael paused for 5 seconds, looked down, and then out of the window. “I feel intimidated,” she said.
Thirty seconds had passed in silence.
For the first time, David spoke, “What more do you think, or feel, or want to say?”
Rachael immediately came up with a sigh and said, “I don’t feel belonged to this team. During meetings, everyone has such good ideas to share, and they all are enthusiastic. I worry if my ideas and opinions are good enough to be shared. No one stops to ask me what do I think.”
Instead of asking questions to gather more information, guide her, explore future actions, or share his insights, David asked, “What do you assume is causing that?”
Rachael paused for a second and answered, “I am assuming that others need to do something, or they need to change their way of working to make me feel included. I am assuming that it doesn’t require any effort from me.”
After a short pause, she added, “I know that’s not the right approach.” She had a glimmer of optimism in her eyes when she said, “I am being made part of this team because people believe in my capabilities. So, I should not let them or myself down. I will not hold myself back from saying or doing whatever I feel is right for the team’s success.”
In this coaching scenario between Rachael and David, the coach didn’t interrupt or guide. He ignored what Rachael said. The only thing David did was to create a THINKING ENVIRONMENT for her to think freely. As he did this, Rachael herself worked through the issues, gained clarity, and found a way forward.
The Thinking Partnership was originally conceived 30 years ago by Nancy Kline, founder of Time to Think. It is based upon the observation that ‘the quality of everything that we, as human beings do, depends on the quality of the thinking we do first.’
In a Thinking Partnership, the coach isn’t thinking for the client, paraphrasing the client’s words or taking notes, but intently engaging their best thinking to generate their best decision-making. The coach trusts the client’s intelligence and creates an ideal Thinking Environment for clients to think for themselves.
The Thinking Partnership model believes that the most valuable thing the coach can offer to their clients is the framework to think for themselves. The underlying question is, “how do you help others think well for themselves?”
The way you behave around them creates all the difference. Let’s understand how to act as a coach when creating the Thinking Partnership to generate the highest quality thinking from an individual or team.
How to use the THINKING PARTNERSHIP Model?
According to Nancy Kline, ten behaviors generate the best thinking partnership between the coach and a client. These are called 10 Components of the Thinking Environment.
- Attention – Be an active listener and give your full attention.
- Equality – Value others equally as a thinker and give equal worth to their thoughts.
- Ease – Be calm, focused, and unhurried, giving others psychological safety to think at their best
- Appreciation – Give five times more positive remarks to a person than negatives or criticisms.
- Encouragement – Move beyond competition and say things that give the courage to generate good thinking
- Feelings – Allow people to express their feelings, so they relax and resume good thinking.
- Information – Supply accurate and full facts, and recognize social context to dismantle denial and accept reality.
- Difference – Welcome different thinking.
- Incisive questions – Ask incisive questions to remove untrue assumptions and free a person’s mind to think afresh.
- Place – Your body language and physical space tell people “you matter.”
As per the Thinking Partnership model, the two parties in the coaching conversation are Partner (coach) and Thinker (client).
Before starting the session, the partner informs the Thinker that they will be given sufficient time and attention to speak and be listened to.
Start the session with a simple question:
“What do you want to think about?”
“What are your thoughts on ………….?”
Let the Thinker think through the situation at their own will.
As the Thinker begins to think out aloud and pause, the partner will ask:
“What more do you think, or feel or want to say?”
Many different thoughts will begin to emerge in the Thinker’s mind.
“What more?” – This question can be asked multiple times for the Thinker to continue exploring their thoughts and put everything out on the table.
Once that happens, the Thinker is ready to identify their limiting assumptions or what is standing in the way of their goals.
Make a more active intervention by asking what are known as Incisive QuestionsTM.
The process for this is to:
- Help them find their limiting assumption by asking, “What assumptions are you making that is getting in the way?” Listen, and then ask, “What else?” Repeat until they have no more assumptions. Then ask them to choose the one that is most in their way.
- Ask an Incisive QuestionTM to remove that belief and find their freeing assumption. Some examples of Incisive Questions are:
- What assumption are you making that is getting in the way?
- If you knew you were to become the boss, what problem would you solve first, and how?
- If you knew you are vital to this organization’s success, how would you approach your work?
- If things could be exactly right for you, how would they have to change?
Time To Think outlines dos and don’ts to create a thinking environment as a coach:
- Recognize that your key expertise is to create the ten conditions under which your clients can think for themselves.
- Be more interested in where your clients are going with their thinking than you are determined to share yours.
- Be more interested in what is real and true for your clients than you are frightened of being proved wrong.
- Recognize that you are simultaneously essential to your clients and irrelevant.
- Consider it a success when your clients conceive ideas better than yours.
- Ensure your clients that you will not interrupt them.
- Wonder what more they think or feel or want to say. Ask. Ask again. And again.
- Know that this alone may be enough to result in a successful session.
- Recognize the universal block to thinking and action: untrue assumptions.
- Master the building of Incisive Questions™ to remove them.
- Understand the difference between an assumption and a belief.
- Have the courage to trust the intelligence of your client.
- Interrupt your clients.
- Assume you must, or even can, think for them.
- Define helping as speaking, intervening, “doing for.”
- Paraphrase your clients.
- Just wait to speak, rather than truly want to know what more your clients think.
- Regard the “listening part” of a session as just the beginning. It is the core.
- Feel successful only when your clients do what you think is best.
- Deflect clients from feelings.
- Assume their thinking is over the minute they are quiet or say they are finished.
- Tell clients what they are assuming.
- Regard the words “assumption” and “belief” as always interchangeable.
- Trust your intelligence more than your client’s.
- Take notes (unless your client demands it).
Where best to use it?
It is a powerful client-centered coaching model that puts the client’s independent thinking as its first priority.
It is a very useful approach for facilitating a group workshop or team meeting to find mutually beneficial solutions to problems.
A quick conclusion on how to try it
If you would like to experience this for yourself, try out the Thinking Partnership process to find solutions to your family, neighborhood, or community challenges. Invite the stakeholders to sit in a room. You facilitate the session by helping the group work out their information, remove their limiting assumptions, and find solutions to address the challenges.
As a coach, you need to clarify in your mind that the client does not require your views, guidance, or analysis; instead, they need to come up with their understandings and solutions for themselves. You only need to pose questions that keep them accurate, imaginative, and practical.
Kline, N. (1999) Time to think: Listening to ignite the human mind. Cassell Illustrated, London.
Kline, N (2009) More Time to Think: A Way of Being in the World London, Fisher King
Whitmore, Sir J. (2009) Coaching for Performance London, Brealey
Wilson, C. (2008) Clean Language, Training Journal
Wilson, C. (2009) NLP, Training Journal