Do you ever get the feeling in a meeting that this is just such a waste of time?  If only they would shut up and we can all go back to our desks and get on with the real work? Or – here we go again, the same old arguments, no solutions?  Or – why doesn’t he/she listen to me?

There’s a prevalent culture in many organisations that some people have all the answers, they do the talking.  The loudest voices win.  Of course, it isn’t true and doesn’t have to be that way.

All managers and team leaders – indeed everyone – would benefit from the book ‘Time to Think’ by Nancy Kline.  Written in 1999, it should be a classic management text and an essential read.  But it took me a trip to South Africa and meeting with an old university friend to discover the book.

The idea in the book is simple: most of the time, we have the solution to our problems in our mind.  We just need to take time to think.  We are the best person to describe our own problem, challenge or issue.  But we may need help and an appropriate environment to unleash those solutions.  Too often, noise around us stops us thinking – whether it’s other people jumping in with their ideas, the pressure of getting through the agenda or just lack of practice of thinking for ourselves!  Some people are naturally noisy, speak as they think – while others are quiet, reflective, think before speaking.  There is a series of techniques to release each person’s thinking potential which are described in ‘Time to Think’.   Imagine that you are leading a team meeting:-

  • Start with appreciation: what’s going right, what is there to celebrate, who’s done what well.  It sets a positive tone.  Give everyone a turn to speak.
  • Raise the topic for discussion and ask each person for their comment/thoughts.
  • When a person has their turn to speak, don’t interrupt.  Even – especially – when they need time to think, don’t interrupt the quiet.  Ride out any discomfort.  And when they’re speaking, everyone else gives them attention – without fiddling, looking out windows, writing notes, murmuring…!
  • After everyone has had their turn, ask ‘incisive questions’ to reveal and remove assumptions that are limiting ideas:  “if we knew we were vital to this organisation’s success, how would we approach our work?”  “If you knew that you were as intelligent as your boss, how would you present yourself to them?”
  • Limiting assumptions can be facts: “you are not the chief executive”.  No argument.  Probable facts: they might laugh at me.  Yes, they might but they might not; what if they didn’t?  Or bedrock assumptions about self – “I don’t have a right to say what I think” – or about how life works: “change is difficult”, “listening puts you in a vulnerable position”.
  • By framing and asking the incisive question to cut through a limiting assumption, new ideas will flow.
  • If thoughts and ideas stall, divide the team into pairs and ask them to listen to each other for 5 minutes each, without interruption.  Then reconvene and go round the group again for everyone to take a turn to speak and others to listen.
  • Allow feelings to emerge – anger, sadness, frustration.
  • If someone has information to give or inaccuracy to correct, they can do that in their turn.
  • End the meeting with another round of positive and/or appreciative comments.

It’s simple and may sound too ‘fluffy’.  But organisations that run meetings in this way tend to be more effective and efficient with people more engaged and feeling valued.

You can do this in ‘proper’ meetings and informally, in groups and in pairs.

It’s all about listening, giving people time to think, giving opportunity to unleash all our potential.  Read the book – it could change your work/life!

Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind.Nancy Kline.  ISBN 0-7063-7745-1

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This work by Peter Kenworthy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

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