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Review: Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind


Title: Time to Think: Listening to ignite the human mind
Author: Nancy Kline
Publisher: Cassell Illustrated
ISBN: 0706377451
Price: £9.99
Reviewer: Jacky Pratt, Accredited Practitioner Coach

Time to Think is a book that changes behaviour. It has a simple, but powerful message, which is that the quality of our thinking depends upon the quality of another person’s attention when listening to us. Why is this important? Because thinking precedes action, so clearer thinking leads to improved action.

Until challenged, most of us believe we are good, or at least adequate, listeners. Time to Think provides this challenge. It helps us to understand that listening expertly takes skill and practice… and that the results can be amazing.

How often do you think you know what someone else is about to say? Do you ever finish someone’s sentence for them? Maybe you think you know the answer to their problem, so perhaps you are only half-listening, whilst formulating what you will say when it is next your turn to speak? This book helps us understand the value of letting people talk, uninterrupted, instead of finishing their sentence for them and offering advice. This literally provides them with ‘time to think’, to listen to themselves, to reach insights which otherwise stay buried.

Nancy Kline expands this concept into something she spent 15 years developing, something she calls the Thinking Environment™. This consists of ten essential behaviours for when people are together, which encourage people to really think for themselves. This enriches relationships, provides better ideas, and within an organisation, it increases motivation and commitment.

The book explores the ten components in detail and explains why thinking alone is less productive than thinking with an attentive ‘human thinking partner’. When we think alone, we make assumptions which go unchallenged, acting as barriers to new thinking. When an attentive listener notices these limiting assumptions, they can challenge them, using ‘incisive questions’. These questions enable the thinker to bypass their assumptions, to think of things previously inconceivable.

Having defined the elements of a Thinking Environment, Nancy Kline continues in Part two to explore how to create this environment within an organisation. She describes the six steps in a Thinking Session, with wonderful examples that bring the process to life. She discusses how meetings can be improved, providing better ideas in less time, and how potential conflicts can be resolved by supplying a structure of respect.

She provides a compelling explanation for the value of executive coaching. Nancy Kline suggests that there are two essential skills required for a coach to bring out brilliance in a client. One is to provide ‘stunning attention’, and the other is to become expert at asking incisive questions. This is the book for any coach seeking to understand the value of non-directive coaching and the simple, yet often misunderstood premise: that a coach does not need to have the answers.

Part three is wider-ranging and inspirational. It describes her vision of the whole world as a Thinking Environment. She applies her reasoning to areas as diverse as health, relationships, schooling, families and politics and she demonstrates the reality of a quote by Shirley Edwards of Xerox: “A Thinking Environment is not just a theory and a set of skills. It is a way of being in the world.”

This book will revolutionise your listening and thinking skills, leading to greatly improved communication in all areas of your work and life.


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