Guest Blog: Do you ever promise not to interrupt? Have you ever been listened to without being interrupted?!
Ruth McCarthy and Laura Williams, who are both colleagues and mother and daughter, on how the simple, powerful promise not to interrupt can transform communication, build trust and make a huge difference to people’s lives.
Who do you know who is a really good listener? What difference does it make to you if somebody allows you to finish your thought rather than interrupting you with their advice, information, unasked-for ideas? Listening to ignite thinking, rather than listening to reply and interrupt, makes a huge difference to how we experience each other.
The world we live in has become increasingly interruptive. Whether we are being interrupted by each other, by our own tech devices, by social media, by email, or Zoom calls, we rarely get more than a few seconds before something breaks into our thinking pattern. How can we expect to communicate with each other properly, or to think well, under these conditions?
A great Thinking Environment starts with Attention. Listening well is the only way to really hear what somebody else is thinking and feeling, and listening without interruption actively improves communication and connection on both sides of any interaction or relationship. When people ask what I do, I say ‘I show people how to listen, and then we discover exactly how much and why that helps people to think’.
Because the quality of our thinking depends to a remarkable degree on the quality of attention that we are getting from the person with whom we are thinking.
When I read Nancy Kline’s first book Time to Think in 2007 it was a revelation. It crystallised so much that I felt about how poorly we communicate what we really mean. It all comes down to our listening.
Turn off the Advice
The world we live in actively rewards the advisors and the ‘experts’. We get paid for giving advice. In fact we compete with each other and in groups to be the first to give an answer. It means it's very hard to resist the impulse to come in on somebody else’s thinking. Especially as a mother.
Turn up the Listening
So learning how to turn off the advising instinct and ramp up the listening has been transformational for me as a parent. Understanding that my daughters can be 100% equal to me as thinkers (because they each have a brain, and each is fully equipped to think) was a huge breakthrough. Dialling down the anxiety, feeling more ease in the moment, trying to be a thinking partner rather than an anxious mother - it has made such a difference. My only regret has been not finding my way to it sooner!
I will always remember my first experience of a Thinking Environment. I was on the sofa at home, aged 25, trying to figure out where I was going wrong in my career and why I wasn’t happy. My mother just listened as I poured out all my thinking, my experiences to date - and after a little while, I started to see things differently, to make new connections - understanding myself and the jobs I’d done differently, seeing what was missing.
And Ruth just kept listening, giving me attention that helped me to keep going, no judgement, no advice - she was training with Nancy at the time. After a while I said ‘What is this - this feels so different!’ and she explained a bit about the Thinking Environment. I was fascinated, and within 4 years I’d qualified with Nancy too and started my business to teach others and spread the word about this amazing ‘way of being’. The Thinking Environment and the Components which create it are such a dependable way to communicate, with loved ones, friends, colleagues - it’s foolproof. It’s changed my life, my relationships and given me the gift of a framework for independent thinking that I can now pass on to my children.
It all starts with Attention.
If we promise not to interrupt each other and listen with interest to where the person is going in their thinking, we communicate on a whole new level. We show respect. We are creating equality in the relationship. We hope you can try it too.
The leadership and training organisation Time to Think, of which we are both Faculty members, offers an increasing number of different ways in which to address cultural communications, which include professional development courses and programmes for individuals and for groups. You can read more here:
Ruth’s website: www.thinkitthrough.co.uk.
Laura’s website: www.thethinkingwell.co.uk
Try this at home!
Next time someone needs to solve a problem, suggest that you will listen to them, without interruption, while they think it through. Suggest five minutes. Start them off by asking “What do you want to think about, and what are your thoughts?” and then sit back and relax and listen. Keep your eyes on their eyes in a relaxed way.
No matter how drivingly interested you are and no matter how much you think you can add value, see what happens for the Thinker because you didn’t. Don’t jump into their silences or try to solve anything. If they really get stuck, you can just ask them ‘What more do you think?’ and, most likely, watch their thinking take off again.