Time to Think is the title of a book by Nancy Klein. It was recommended as a resource by people I trust.
The first time I read it I didn’t really get it, it seemed like a variation on what I already knew and did.
Yet people I valued kept referring to it as being a terrific resource and method.
I had another look, still not convinced it was so exceptional.
Then an opportunity arose. I was asked to work with a large-ish management team of 12 people. A few preliminary interviews suggested, in a vague way, that group ‘behaviour’ was an issue. Also that prehaps there were some past issues that were unresolved.
While the day was essentially focused on future strategy, I thought it might be an idea to get a ‘time to think’ round in early on so everyone could say what needed saying without interruption.
So after a few preliminaries, and a quick round of ‘what is most exciting you about your work at present?’ I introduced the idea, suggesting it might take a while and inviting anyone who needed to to ‘make themselves comfortable’ before we began.
A few words of explanation:
‘In turn, you will get to speak without interruption about “what is the most compelling vision I have for the future of…. and what do we need to focus on to make that happen?” until you are finished. While one person is speaking the rest of us support by listening, clearly showing that we are by our eyes, face and body language.’
I gave people a couple of minutes to make any notes they wanted about what they wanted to say and then off we went:
- The first thing I noticed was that after the first speaker had finished he pushed his chair back from the table, very clearly settling into a good, comfortable and attentive listening position. This continued as each speaker spoke, in a very slow Mexican wave effect.
- Secondly, it was very hard for me to assess how valuable this might be. I couldn’t tell whether people were rapt or bored.
- Thirdly, I did throw in the occasional support for the quality of the listening as we switched speakers. They were doing very well.
- Unprompted, people started to link their contribution to those that had gone before, always a sign of attentive listening.
- And finally I noticed for myself the transition to a meditative/zen like state where it became harder and harder to speak.
Immediately afterwards, just before coffee, I asked for feedback on the process. Some of the comments made were:
‘What’s that been 40 minutes? an hour? I think there has been more value in the last hour than we would ever achieve in an hour in our meetings. I mean, we might not have made any decisions but just in terms of information transfer – I’ve learnt so much.’
‘It was really hard not to jump in – I’ve bitten my tongue so hard I think I’ve drawn blood.’
‘It’s strange, I’ve heard ….say that loads of times before and …going on about….But I’ve never really realised how much it matters to him, how important it is to him.’
‘It’s made me realise how much I speak for speaking sake. I am resolved to say less and listen more in future.’
What I can’t convey through their words was the sense of discovery and wonder ( and deep learning) in their tone of voice as they made some of these comments.
They were knocked out by the power of this simple discipline. The effects of it could be seen throughout the rest of day, as they themselves said. In the final round, reflecting on the day, a lot of people referred back to that hour as being the most thought provoking or impactful of the day.
I admit I was astonished. I thought it would be a good exercise for them but I had no idea how powerful it would prove to be.
I am a convert, I shall be using it again. (I am also resolved to try to finish reading the book!!)