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Nancy Kline – Time to Think: The Challenge of Autonomy in Coaching

We are delighted this week to feature guest blogger, Mac Farquhar. If you would like to blog on a theme related to Challenging Coaching then please get in touch. Here is Mac’s valuable insight into Nancy Kline’s coaching classic ‘Time to Think’. (John Blakey)

Having just read Nancy Kline’s “Time to Think – Listening to Excite the Human Mind” and “More Time to Think – The Power of Independent Thinking”, I am a reconstructed coach! Originally, Myles Downey’s approach was a perfect fit for me then John & Ian’s ‘Challenging Coaching’ added a welcome bite of systems-thinking reality. However, Nancy’s natural and highly disciplined way of coaching adds something extra; I feel it mirrors how the human mind works by putting the emphasis on thinking for ourselves. In particular, Nancy Kline’s proposition is that autonomy is more challenging than autocracy.

This is new territory for me. If Nancy Kline is right, it certainly makes a strong case for coaches giving their clients a chance to think for themselves before making any other interventions. According to Nancy Kline, the whole point of coaching is to generate the client’s best thinking and this requires the building a ‘Thinking Environment’.

thinking environment

Therefore, the coach’s first responsibility is to develop their expertise in the ‘Ten Components of the Thinking Environment’. With that environment in place, the coach can offer any response, process, model, framework or diagnostic. The ‘Thinking Environment’ adds quality and client autonomy to all coaching conversations. It is positioned as the essential infrastructure.

The ‘Ten Components of a Thinking Environment’ are:

  1. Attention – listening with respect, interest and fascination
  2. Incisive questions – removing assumptions that limit ideas
  3. Equality – treating each other as ‘Thinking Partners’ giving equal attention
  4. Appreciation – practising a 5:1 ratio of affirming & appreciating to criticising
  5. Ease – offering freedom from rush or urgency
  6. Encouragement – moving beyond competition
  7. Feelings – allowing sufficient emotional release to restore thinking
  8. Information – providing a full and accurate picture of reality
  9. Place – creating a physical environment that says ‘you matter’
  10. Diversity – adding quality because of difference

As coaches, we need to stop knowing, and start wondering. We must coach, not control. Your clients need your ability to create a ‘Thinking Environment’ for them. They want it because ultimately we all want to think for ourselves. We want to figure things out, say things, discover things, create things we have never had access to before. We want to be asked not told. We want to be listened to impeccably.

So when your client enters your office, it is vital to remember that there are now two experts in the room. You know your work and they know their work. As the expert in the ‘Thinking Environment’ you liberate the expert in them. There you have it. Thank you, Nancy. You have reconstructed my coaching.

Mac Farquhar is an Edinburgh-based certified management consultant and qualified emotional intelligence coach who specialises in executive leadership and team development.  You can contact Mac via his website at www.ablepeople.co.uk 

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