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What Does it Mean to be a Thinking Environment® and Why Does it Matter?

“2020 is not turning out to be a very good year, first with the pandemic and now with the social unrest”, our daughter declared the other evening.

Listening to Hannah share her thoughts and feelings got me thinking. 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? What if – with creativity, courage, and commitment – we chose to become a thinking environment for others?

This last question is one I had the opportunity to think through in the presence and exquisite attention of my friend and fellow Thinking Environment specialist, Claire Andrews. You can watch or listen to a short section of our session below;

What does it mean to be a Thinking Environment?

My understanding of what this means is based, first and foremost, on that stunning observation that Nancy Kline made: the quality of everything we do and feel as a human being depends on the quality of the independent thinking we do first. Secondly, I notice that what and how we think determines how we show up in the way we connect with others. And, thirdly, what we think impacts our lives in the way that we feel: joy or sadness, liberated or limited, hope or resignation.

A gift of love

I believe that being a thinking environment is a gift of love. And, truly, it’s hard. In the same way, that falling in love can seem easy but staying in love can be hard. Not because we don’t want to, but because the challenges that life presents, that are out of our control, can sometimes put stress on that love.  Being a thinking environment is a gift of love, and anything that is as rich and as deep as love is worth having. If we want something bad enough, it is worth working for and committing to.

A radical approach

We are rewarded for taking in the knowledge of those more experienced around us, and then repeating it back or rewriting it.

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. It’s not until we move through more senior education that we are invited to share our own views on a topic. I witness this for our daughters right now as they study A levels. It is a big shift for them, and a thrill to see and hear how they are invited to form their own opinions through their reading and the conversations they are having with peers and teachers.

Equally, I notice that the university education system teaches a lot of technical knowledge and many hugely valuable skills – the abilities to think critically, write well, make an argument, debate. And yet the skill of listening – listening to generate the best in others – isn’t part of the curriculum.

Listening free of judgement, with empathy

When we listen free of judgment, we allow the mirror neurons of empathy to do their work.

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. One of the components of being a thinking environment is giving our attention. It is giving a palpable respect for another’s thinking and to where they may go next, rather than simply waiting to reply. It’s giving our attention with our eyes on the eyes of the thinker and noticing their face, noticing those small intricacies of how they move their mouth, their eyes and their eyebrows as they’re thinking. It’s giving our attention to the reaction within our own bodies as we listen, and then quietening it to give our attention to the thinker once more.

Listening to free rather than direct the mind

To be a thinking environment for others is to free them. It is to free their mind rather than direct it. I also believe that, through no fault of anyone’s, we have fallen into the trap of depending on others’ thinking. Not that this is wrong, because there is a place for us to learn from others. It is incredibly enriching. As a leader of a business and as a parent I want to listen and learn from others. New information can help us make better decisions and discern what we need to do differently. Generating the best independent thinking in others in this world is rare. It’s 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

The thing that touches my heart most of all, whenever I have the privilege of being a thinking environment, is the level of self-awareness someone can experience as a result of the quality of attention that they receive.

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 haven’t 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.

Jane Adshead-Granthttps://janeadsheadgrant.com/
Jane is a listening and people leadership specialist. She helps individuals develop their leadership gifts and skills with compassion, courage, and commitment to foster environments where everybody matters. Her gifts are to encourage and to listen. Listen free from interruption and judgement, encouraging others to step into who they were meant to be. She has more than 30 years’ experience in people-focused roles in the corporate environment. Jane is an MCC coach with the ICF, Accredited Coach, Facilitator, and Teacher of the Thinking Environmentâ and Ambassador of Truly Human Leadership. Additionally, she is the author of Are you Listening or Just Waiting to Speak?

10 COMMENTS

  1. This is such a rich and meaningful article, to remind us of the quality of listening and the creation of a ‘thinking environment.’ I was especially drawn in by these two thoughts:
    “And yet the skill of listening – listening to generate the best in others – isn’t part of the curriculum.”
    “To witness their gifts and their talents, some of which they may not realise they have, or have not surfaced because they haven’t 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.”
    So. Very. True.! I have been delivering a seminar for UCalgary ContEd for a number of years that I call Integrative Listening – and it’s built on these very premises! I do love the way that you’ve articulated them so succinctly and well!

  2. My compliments for the article.
    In order not to get trapped in things already known, albeit good, what has to change is the head, not so much the practice: a change in the way we look at things, think of them, observe them, generates new knowledge about those things themselves.
    In this sense, school can represent the best ally of companies: forming the head of the boys, making it elastic, that is, capable of grasping the essence of everything that will be encountered, will be able to generate men capable of promoting positive changes, above all, and is the most central aspect, capable of taking responsibility even when “the sea is stormy”, because they will be able to make “new horizons” practicable.

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