A Thinking Environment | theHRD – The HR Director Magazine

Posted: December 11, 2020 at 4:57 am

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Article by: Jane Adshead-Grant, ICF MCC Executive Coach and Mentor Coach, emerging faculty member with Time to Think and an ambassador of Truly Human Leadership, UK

What does it mean to be a Thinking Environment and why does it matter?

What if 2020 is the perfect vision we have been given to see the world afresh, with new eyes, open hearts, and ears to listen more deeply, free from judgement?

What if 2020 is the year we embrace change, in a way unlike what we have ever done in the past?

Nancy Kline observed: the quality of everything we do and feel as a human being depends on the quality of the independent thinking we do first. Furthermore, I notice that what and how we think determines how we show up in the way we connect with others. And, what we think impacts our lives in the way that we feel: joy or sadness, liberated or limited, hope or resignation.

What if we would, more intentionally, generate the best thinking in others and ourselves, for the good of all? What if with creativity, courage and commitment we chose to become a thinking environment for others?

A radical approach

Being a thinking environment is radical because we are inviting people to think for themselves, as themselves. In our society, from our earliest days, through our education system, we have been given information to learn and regurgitate and we have been told to conform. We are rewarded for taking in the knowledge of those more experienced around us, and then repeating it back or rewriting it.

Listening free of judgement, with empathy

To be a thinking environment for others is to master the art of listening, free of interruption, free of judgment. When we listen free of judgment, we allow the mirror neurons of empathy to do their work.

Listening to free rather than to direct the mind

To be a thinking environment for others is to free them. It is to free their mind rather than direct it. Generating the best independent thinking in others in this world is rare. It is rare because people are not used to doing it or experiencing it.

Listening to release creativity

Being a thinking environment for others enables creativity to emerge. The thinking it can ignite way outside the box never, ever ceases to amaze me. The nature of independent thinking is our capacity to tap into that innate creativity, that willingness to be a vulnerable explorer. Because when we remove the outer layers we have put on over the years, to protect ourselves and others the layers accumulated through our experiences, the environments we have lived and worked in, the people we have met we reveal the innate creativity and resourcefulness we have been granted as a human being.

Listening to deepen self-awareness

It is a privilege to hold a non-judgmental view, a positive philosophical view, that the human being in front of me, the mind in front of me, is an oasis of richness.

To witness their gifts and their talents, some of which they may not realise they have, or have not surfaced because they havent been given the opportunity to express themselves as themselves. To observe the sense of ease they experience, free from the need to be or say what they think others want them to be or say.

Listening with the promise not to interrupt

Its not just that Im not going to interrupt you. Its the fact that you know Im not going to interrupt you. That is the difference and it is significant. Because it gives you that chance to really think for yourself, not being in fear that, any minute, Im going to jump in, either to paraphrase what youve said, to seek understanding or to ask you a question that will take you away from your thoughts and feelings.

How do we help others think well for themselves?

The finest independent thinking emerges when we demonstrate a particular set of behaviours towards others. Applied individually they make a difference to the quality of thinking. Embodying them as a system has a transforming effect. Helping others to think well for themselves with rigour, courage, imagination and grace is to behave in ways that let other people know that they matter. Heres how we can do it.

Giving our attention

Giving my attention, a palpable respect for what you are saying, an interest in where you might go next, and a promise that I wont interrupt you as you share your thoughts, feelings, and ideas.

Being at ease

Being at ease ourselves as the listener, free of the internal rush that we might have or the urgency that life might impose upon us will enable others to think more clearly.

Holding equalityHolding the sense of equality that we all have equal capacity to think for ourselves, as ourselves, and that we will take equal turns to speak.

Giving encouragementGiving others courage, encouraging them to go to the edge of their thinking, perhaps where they havent thought before. We might ask: What more do you feel or think or want to say? to encourage them to think further and express more of how they feel.

Offering appreciationWhen we appreciate others for a quality we recognise in them five times more than we critique their learning needs or development areas they will think more imaginatively.

Expressing feelingsHolding a safe environment for others to express their feelings, freeing them to think more clearly. Pent up feelings, or fears of retribution for self-expression, cloud and stifle thinking.

Sharing informationHelping others think well for themselves means being willing to share information when they ask for it. The discipline here is to only offer information that comes from our own experience and feelings, free from attachment, that will assist their thinking further, rather than giving infantilising advice.

Celebrating differenceRecognising our differences and celebrating them. Each and every one of us is unique as a human being. That is the reality. And we all think better when we celebrate that difference and ensure that we bring it into our organisations, into our communities, into our projects, into our teams.

Asking incisive questionsDeveloping the capacity to ask incisive questions, those questions that bust through limiting assumptions. When we challenge a limiting assumption that is untrue, we can create a new, more liberating alternative and pose it in a question thats hypothetical, one that enables the brain to play rather than obey.

Creating a place that says you matterHelping others think well for themselves is to create a place that says You matter. It is about paying attention to the environment itself: Have I taken care of your needs? Is it free of distraction? Place also includes our own physical bodies. Are we refreshed so we can think well and contribute? And, as the listener, the quality of attention you are giving is generating a place that says you matter.

To be a thinking environment is to be a catalyst, to potentially ignite a transformation in others, to provide a space for them to be their best selves.

Why does it matter?

Transforming our perspectivesIm noticing, more than ever now, that its not the differences that generate the unrest, the disturbance, and the suffering that we see in our world today. It is the assumptions that we hold about those differences. The assumptions that we have grown up with. The assumptions we have become embroiled in from watching television or social media. And this is why independent thinking matters. Because it breaks limiting assumptions open. Because it liberates every one of us to think freely, to speak up for what we believe, what we know to be true. Each and every human being on this planet whatever colour, whatever gender, whatever age they are deserves to be treated with dignity.

Transforming our contributionsI believe that being a thinking environment is a gift, one that we can learn, we can practice, we can master. And when we do so, we are enabling somebody to be who they were meant to be. To think for themselves, as themselves. To enrich their own life, to contribute to the lives of others, and to make a difference in the world.

Transforming our strugglesThinking independently also generates a sense of hope. As I think of people Ive met, and stories of huge struggle Ive listened to, whats kept people going and got them out of struggle is their sense of hope. Taking a decision to show up as a thinking environment is to make a positive philosophical choice about people, and about the goodness in the world, and to be willing to create this environment for others. To resist the urge to interrupt. To resist the urge to fix somebody else. To resist the urge to fix the problem for somebody else. To create the opportunity for people to grow for themselves as themselves. To encourage them to navigate their way through a crisis and develop their gifts and talents as a human being. To respect and celebrate their uniqueness.

What if?What if 2020 is the perfect vision we have been given to see the world afresh, with new eyes, open hearts, and ears to listen more deeply, free from judgement? What if 2020 is the year we embrace change, in a way unlike we have ever done in the past? What if we would, more intentionally, generate the best thinking in others and ourselves, for the good of all?

As the International Coach Federation celebrates 25 years, these questions are high on our agenda. Join us in these reflections on how we as coaches and development professionals can help organisations and individuals thrive in the midst of the global challenges we all face together.




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A Thinking Environment | theHRD - The HR Director Magazine

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December 11th, 2020 at 4:57 am

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