1️⃣ Sentence Synopsis
Kline explores the benefits of effective listening—for organizations, systems, and families—arguing that the simple of act of “generative attention” can lead to better thinking, decision-making and a more compassionate world.
This book was recommended during a virtual session with Motoki Tonn (via the Building a Second Brain facilitator’s training). He touched upon Kline’s work but, more effectively, actively modeled it in the session. Motoki is very skilled at building connection with an audience virtually (always a struggle!) so picked up this book and…yes, it’s that good.
🔑 Key Takeaways
The 10 components of an optimal thinking environment: How to be a Good Thought-Partner
- Attention. Listening with respect, interest and fascination.
- Equality. Treating each other as thinking peers, giving equal time to think.
- Ease. Discard internal urgency.
- Appreciation. Notice what is good and say it.
- Encouragement. Moving beyond competition as thinkers. Honoring thought partnership.
- Feelings. Welcome the release of emotion.
- Information. Absorb relevant facts without judgement or input.
- Difference. Seek to understand divergent perspectives knowing that diversity raises the intelligence of groups.
- Incisive Questions. Free the human mind of untrue assumptions lived as true.
- Place. Create an environment—through physical space, body language and deep listening—that says “you matter.”
How to be a good thought partner (protocol for a “Thinking Session”):
- Part I. Begin by asking your partner, “what do you want to think about?” Let them talk, without interruption. If they pause or run out of steam, follow up with: “is there anything more?” Continue to prompt every time they are silent for a while until they have expressed, definitively, that they are done. Even then, you might ask, “Are you sure?”
- Part II. Then, ask: “what do you want to achieve?” Here they state a goal. Try to get them to distill to a concise statement (you as you will need this in Part 4).
- Part III. Then, ask what are you assuming? or, what might you be assuming that is stopping you from achieving your goal? Then, wait. Continue to prompt, revealing underlying assumptions, until you work your way through all of them. Prompt the speaker to choose the one that is most in the way. As an aside, there are three assumptions: 1) facts (my boss controls my schedule) 2 possible facts (my boss might laugh at my idea) and 3) bedrock assumptions (I am stupid). Unlocking the “bedrock assumption” will help the speaker not only during this session but in future thinking sessions.
- Part IV. Incisive Questions. The limiting assumption needs to be removed. A good place to start is to ask what the opposite of the bedrock assumption is (i.e., what is the opposite of “stupid” for you? It might be intelligent, or creative, or wise, or learned…whatever it is, use that word to craft the question.) Here is a way to formulate it: “If you knew…” + freeing assumption (in present tense) + goal. Example: “If you knew that you are intelligent, how would you approach this conversation with your boss?” Keep asking – in exactly the same wording – every time the speaker gets stuck. The question will seem repetitive to you but not to the speaker.
- Part V. The speaker should write down the exact wording of the question.
- Part VI. End with appreciation.
- Two key questions to guide all work meetings: what have you noticed that needs attention or change in this organization that I might not have noticed? What do you think should be done about it?
- Questions managers/supervisors should ask direct reports: What do you think you have accomplished in this period? What has gone particularly well? What are you proud of? What have you discovered about yourself? What is the key thing that you want to improve? What might you be assuming that could stop you? If you assumed something more freeing, what would your first step be? What sort of support do you need from me in order to do it? What other issues do you want to raise with me?
💯 Strong Lines
- On schools: “People learn best in a large context of genuine praise.”
- On generative attention: “…the quality of a person’s attention determines the quality of other people’s thinking.”
- On the conditions for good thinking**:** “The best conditions for thinking…are not tense. They are gentle. They are quiet. They are unrushed. They are stimulating but not competitive. They are encouraging. They are paradoxically both rigorous and nimble.”
- *On insecurity and infantilizing: “*You infantilize when you want the well-being of another person intensely but you also want to be seen as expert, indispensable and brilliant. Infantilizing others is actually an act of profound insecurity.”
- *On ease: “*Ease creates. Urgency destroys….ease is being systematically bred out of our lives. Ease is seen to be the enemy of profit, the keep-ahead drive, the you-are-what-you-have-and-whom-you-control society…..Ease is a deceptively gentle catalyst.”
- On over-talking someone: “interruption is an assault on the thinking process.”
- On criticism in schools: “Receiving a cargo of criticism does not build character and discipline. It builds a core of self-doubt and in some people it builds a determination to retaliate…”
- On love: ****“When someone wants to know what you really think, love can begin. When someone wants to know all of what you think, all of what you feel, when they are respectful of it, fascinated by it, not needing to control it, love grows. On the other hand, the minute someone tries to shape your thoughts for you, love recedes. When someone looks at you, wants you, in order to bend you to fill their fantasy or make them proud or to adorn their ambitions with you, love is doomed.
- On raising “thinking children”: “…give [them] attention as if they were works of art. They are. Tell them countless times a day that you love them and respect them. Let them cry. And as soon as possible, ask them what they really think, every day. Then listen like mad….not infantilizing our children means asking what dreams reside in their soul…”
🧠 Brain Tickles
- An alternative to brainstorming: go around first so everyone can contribute one idea, they open up for random contributions, go around again systematically so you can hear from each person one more time. Then, pair people off to talk, uninterrupted, for 10 minutes (five minutes per person). Bring everyone back, and each person shares one idea.
- Zoom meetings may actually be better for thinking than in-person ones because its stilted nature makes interruption difficult.
- The citation of Pauline Sandell’s work with Diversity and Greatness Circle.
- During presentations, the audience should provide a “thinking environment” for the speaker (though, too often, they are “salivating for attack, often just to dazzle their colleagues”). Two good questions to positively affirm speakers at the conclusion of a presentation: what do you think has been good in this presentation, and what in particular do you respect about the presenting team?
- Paraphrasing is not always an effective coaching move as it may express “that we think they should use our wording.”
🍎 Ideas & Excerpts for Teaching and Learning
There is an entire chapter devoted to creating a thinking environment in schools. Kline was the founding director of Thornton Friends school and has worked in higher education in recent decades as well. Her advice is grounded in “respect…for the student as thinker, the student as full human being, the student as responsible, loving, intellectually adroit, academically grounded young adult, committed to making a positive difference in the world.”
Some advice she gives on enacting these principles in the classroom:
- Ask your students what they think five times more than telling them what you think.
- In the last 10 minutes of class, divide students into thinking pairs and give them each five minutes to talk without interruption. They can talk about what they learned, what is still confusing, etc.
- Begin class with a quick round of positive comments: what is going well for you? What did you do yesterday that you feel good about today?
- Don’t humiliate students in front of others.
- Create a way for each student to be concretely appreciated by their peers at least once a month.
- Provide a mini-course on how to give intelligent, undivided attention to people. A protocol she recommends is Lee Glickstein’s Thinking Circles.
- Apply a 5:1 ration of praise to critique when telling students what you think of their work.