A Space to Think: Is a Thinking Session the Same as Coaching?

A Space to Think: Is a Thinking Session the Same as Coaching?
What if we were equal in our thinking? Photo by Jack Moreh from Freerange Stock

In this article, I will firstly explain the ways in which I believe the Thinking Session is a genuine and effective coaching framework. I will then go on to explain what I believe are the features of the Thinking Session that are not usually found in other coaching approaches. Your thoughts are welcome.

What do you understand by coaching anyway?

In approaching this, let’s define the word ‘coaching’. “Coaching is a process that aims to improve performance and focuses on the ‘here and now’ rather than on the distant past or future”[1]is a definition that resonates with me. I appreciated something about it, combined with something about this, “Coaching is a form of development in which an experienced person, called a coach, supports a learner or client in achieving a specific personal or professional goal by providing training and guidance”[2]. The latter is somewhat prescriptive for a Thinking Environment©.

The truth is that I didn’t want to and don’t call myself a coach because I aspire to be one. I use it because it’s a term the world recognises. It’s short and sweet and is a broad term that covers most of what I do. Nancy Kline, founder of Time to Think didn’t or doesn’t use it easily or quickly either, from what I gather. Thinking Partner is more accurate but less easily recognisable. The Thinking Environment© is a methodology and philosophy before it is a coaching framework. This is the first important consideration in approaching this question.

What if both of us were equal in our thinking?

The next consideration is around the component of Equality in Time to Think. Traditional Coaching overlooks equality in favour of the expert. A client who come to me for voice and speech coaching, want me to share the knowledge I have of the tools and techniques imparted to them in line with their individual needs: I am the expert; they are the learner. But through training as a Time to Think Coach, I have gained a better and deeper knowledge of their needs, asking questions and listening more attentively in an environment of equality. This allows them to think for themselves and share information without interruption. As our sessions progress, I know when each tool, technique or piece of information is needed based on the listening I do, and regarding my client as they progress. A pure Time to Think session is different. When I am a Thinking Partner, I don’t take responsibility for having the answers, they do. I am not the expert – how can I be the expert in their thinking? I have surrendered that willingly in favour of their generative thinking. In doing so, I am empowering the Thinker to be the expert that they are themselves.

Equality removes the knowledge and experience of the coach unless requested. When we are contracting, I say, “I will not give you my perspective. If you want my perspective, you can request it, but you have no obligation to do so”. Can you imagine what a relief that is, knowing that when you speak your thoughts aloud, you won’t be subject to the opinion, experience or perceived expertise of another party? There is a caveat called ‘Information, sometimes’, which I won’t detail here. Equality makes things new in the way that parenting is new every time with the first mother and child combination, every time. Time to Think is new, fresh, free thinking for the Thinker. As soon as the parent thinks, ‘ah yes, we’ve been here before’ with child number two, the child will teach them otherwise. The Thinking Environment creates the same newness for the Thinker to thrive.

Do you want to think independently for yourself?

Time to Think is an effective coaching framework because the coach is facilitating the Thinker’s ability to coach themselves, knowing that I am there to hold the space and can be asked for my perspective if it is wanted. It rarely is. I usually find myself promising my perspective if I can ask just one more question first. And then they’re off, thinking exquisitely for themselves, the need for my perspective forgotten in the brilliance and bright light of their own thinking.

Physician heal thyself

Jesus, not Shakespeare

Furthermore, Time to Think is a mentality around coaching that commits both the coach or Thinking Partner and client to independent thinking. There is trust in the generative thoughts of the Thinker. There is a fearlessness in its approach that believes the Thinker can go where they have not gone before. There is a simplicity in the questions, although there is nothing simple about them.

Time to Think is the least prescriptive approach to coaching I know. It is committed to the independent thinking of the client. It is more like jazz than classical music where both have value and both work. But in jazz, the musicians tune into each other and improvise to create a piece of music. An orchestra is led by a conductor and is given sheet music to follow. The musician may compose, and that is akin to a Thinking Environment but to be performed, the player must follow guidelines. So, the Thinking Environment is an act of creation while the traditional coaching environment can be more about performance.

In what soil does the best thinking grow?

At its best, Time to Think requires me to embody ten components to help the client think for themselves. It helps the Thinker move forward towards a goal which, at best, they have self-identified. But thinking for oneself is the main goal and extraordinary achievement in our world today. Traditional coaching may be in danger of overlooking this as it rushes to take a person through a certain framework, such as the GROW model. When listening to my clients the word ‘ramble’ is used often, sometimes apologetically. But isn’t a physical ramble a delightful journey of beauty and discovery, so why can’t a mental ramble be so too? There is no rush. Ease ensures this. There can be a distinct lack of ease with using models, but a Thinking Environment is a genuine and effective way to approach any element of examining goals, looking at reality and options and seeking a way forward, if the client’s thinking takes them there. Their mind is the captain of their thinking framework, not an externally imposed model. But I have witnessed a Thinker accomplish all that a GROW model accomplishes in as much time or less. But because they have owned the route and the journey, they are so much more committed to their actions and more likely to execute them.

Conventional coaching assumes that you are in one place in work or life, and you want to be taken somewhere else. As I see it, it then uses a framework to get you there. Time to Think gives you the freedom to just think, trusting that you will be in the right place by the end of the session, just because you’ve eked out time to think for yourself.

Source: Alvin Ailey Dance Theater
Holding the Space (Photo source: Unsplash)

From what I’ve explored, conventional coaching is about training and guidance whereas Time to Think is more about holding the space for the Thinker while they draw on the wisdom, knowledge and understanding they have to think through something and ‘holding the doors’ while the mind sails through, guide them on their chosen path.

Where do you draw the lines?

Unlike conventional coaching, Time to Think does not draw lines between coaching and counselling, personal and professional. On Day One of the Foundation Course, I had listened for some time to Nancy introduce Time to Think. Differentiating between coaching and counselling had been a starting point for a training programme I was delivering to a national organisation, then provided the trainees with a couple of coaching frameworks. From reading Time to ThinkMore Time to Think and listening to Nancy, I had a concern. The differentiation between coaching and counselling in Time to Think seemed a little messy and blurred the lines between the two.

“What happens if you take them somewhere you can’t get them back from?”
Nancy looked at me with kind eyes and spoke gently.
“You’re not taking them anywhere.”

This is the freedom in Time to Think, the independence. Time to Think regards our whole mind as providing the thinking, with no walls or divisions to block the Thinker’s free flow of thinking.

In terms of contracting, there are many similarities between conventional coaching and Time to Think coaching that facilitate an effective and genuine framework. Both have timing, confidentiality, some education about purpose and expectations, payment terms, policies and processes.

Something uniquely different

The Promise that Changes Everything – I will not Interrupt, Kline, Penguin, 2020
Nancy Kline’s latest book provides her freshest thinking on Time to Think

However, there are some features in a Thinking Session that are not found elsewhere. The promise, that has warranted Nancy’s latest book[3], is an essential feature of the session: “I will not interrupt”. This is vital because it commits to the independent thinking of the Thinker and surrenders the opinion and perspective of the Thinking Partner.

There are three elements recommended in conventional coaching contracting[4] that I believe become void when the Thinker is allowed to think for themselves. In some sense, I think these may be infantizing for the Thinker.

Add a success disclaimer: It says that your client is responsible for the outcomes by implementing the advice and steps from the coaching.” This seems superfluous in a Thinking environment and doesn’t treat the Thinker as an equal.

Client responsibility: Reminds your coachees that they need to be accountable, act upon your coaching and doing their part to make it a success and to accomplish their goals.” In a Thinking session, it’s not your coaching, it’s an environment in which to think and the Thinker is coaching themselves in many respects, from their own wealth of knowledge and wisdom, now that they have the attention and space to do so. The Incisive question©, one of the Ten Components, “If you knew…then…? takes care of the responsibility.

“Disclaimer: Coaching is not a substitute for therapy.” This is also voice, as it may inhibit the Thinker allow themselves express feelings or consider their feelings towards thoughts. It may also imply a line between personal and professional boundaries. The Thinking Session allows for thinking of the whole mind and the whole life.

Finally, in conventional coaching, it appears as though the coach is asking questions to gain the knowledge to direct and give advice. Time to Think coaching gives direction to the Thinker and allows them to steer decisions that they will commit to and execute. Therefore, I consider that a Thinking Session is similar to a coaching session, but it is also so much more.

What are your thoughts?

From January 2022, Bespoken will be providing a monthly group thinking space for thinkers to gather, ‘A Space to Think’, for which there will be no fee. Should you wish to experience this or a Time to Think session, please contact me to book a Discovery Call or, if you have experienced a Time to Think Session or read one of Nancy’s books, simply book here for A Space to Think.

[1] Source: Skillsyouneed.com

[2] Source: Wikipedia

[3] The Promise that Changes Everything – I will not Interrupt You, Kline, Penguin, 2020

[4] Source: quotations are from clevermemo.com

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