On where you share INFORMATION in a coaching conversation

Did I ever tell you about the time I was training to be a coach?
On the first day after we’d all done the introductions, the facilitators asked us to get into pairs and take turns coaching each other for 5 minutes. By the end I thought I had absolutely nailed it. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself until the facilitator starting asking questions like:
  • who interrupted their partner?
  • who offered advice?
  • who asked questions that sound a bit like, do you think or have you tried?
As I progressively said yes to each question I realised I had a lot to learn about coaching.
It’s something I see leaders struggle with as well. A team member will come to them with a dilemma based on incorrect information and in their exuberance to help, the leader will interrupt to correct them, give advice or a direction of what to do.
In the Thinking Environment interrupting is an absolute no no. Being able to have a conversation without fear of being interrupted is what allows someone to do their best thinking.
But surely if I know something that will help the other with their dilemma I should share it?
Yes you should, and before you do, ask yourself if this is information that will help their thinking or just your opinion of what you think they should do. If it is just your opinion then go through through the coaching cycle a couple of times before you share it.
Information is one of the 10 components of Nancy Kline’s Thinking Environment. As the coach/leader/listener it is our duty to supply the facts to help the other do their best and freshest thinking.
The thing is, we are often so quick to jump in that we end up interrupting their thinking rather than adding to it.
So let’s look at how this works in practice by going back to the coaching cycle.
A flow diagram showing the coaching cycle
You realise that their dilemma is based on incorrect or missing information
  1. You’ve framed the conversation and removed all distractions – this allows you to bring ease into the conversation
  2. You’ve asked what is on their mind
  3. You are listening with all of your attention – kicking out any stray thoughts that pass by
  4. The person says they are worried about how they will hit the project deadline because the client is away until next week and the team are already running on empty. You know that the client has cut their trip short and is back today but you wait for the other to finish and in the process learn something new yourself.
  5. When the other person stops talking you share your information and then ask them to tell you more about the team.
This isn’t easy.
In two coaching sessions this week I was burning to offer advice, both clients were exploring how they could use a coaching style. I managed to hold back until the last 5 minutes of the sessions when I finally broke and asked if I could offer a technique that might help.
I fell into the trap of thinking that unless I say something I’m not giving value when in fact listening without interruption was all the values they needed to think their way to their own solution.
You notice a pattern
Steps 1-3 are the same
  1. As the person is talking you notice that they seem reluctant to raise issues with the client and you think this is causing the delays that are resulting in longer hours for the team.
  2. When the other person stops talking you ask permission to share what you are noticing – Can I share something that I’m noticing with you? You seem to be reluctant to raise issues with the client, can you tell me more about that?
Notice that I have not given my opinion, I have only shared some information about what I have noticed.
In the Thinking Environment information is also about dismantling denial. When we deny something is true, or not true it limits our thinking and the range of options that we have. Denial is something to approach gently as it is often unconscious so if you do decide to tackle it I suggest try asking the other what assumptions they are making about a situation and whether they think they are true or untrue and then get them to tell you more.
I’d love to know what in this letter has resonated with you. What is now clear and what is still unclear?
My thinking for this letter has been influenced by Nancy Kline’s books Time to Think and More Time to Think. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. There is no additional cost to you and I only use affiliate links of products that I use myself.
Each week I will be writing about one of the 10 components, let me know which one you want to hear about next.

The Ten Components of The Thinking Environment

Attention
Listening with palpable respect and genuine interest, and without interruption

Equality
Treating each other as thinking peers; giving equal turns and attention; keeping boundaries and agreements

Ease
Offering freedom from internal rush or urgency

Encouragement
Giving courage to go to the cutting edge of ideas by moving beyond internal competition

Incisive Questions™
Removing untrue assumptions that limit our ability to think for ourselves well

Feelings
Allowing sufficient emotional release to restore thinking

Appreciation
Offering genuine acknowledgement of a person’s qualities; practicing a ratio of 5:1 appreciation to challenge

Information
Supplying the facts; recognising social context; dismantling denial

Difference
Welcoming diverse group identities and diversity of thinking

Place
Creating a physical environment that says back to people, ‘You matter’

The Ten Components of The Thinking Environment are the copyright of Nancy Kline of Time to Think
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