Who do we default to?
The Component of Encouragement:
Is it safe for me to think independently?
At the beginning of February Nancy Kline visited South Africa, as she does once a year. One of the highlights of her visit is always her talk, and this year Nancy’s freshest thinking was on the question: to whom do we default?
Well, mostly to ourselves, as the listener. If a friend or colleague says: “I’ve got something I need to think about,” we almost always default to the belief that they need something from us. Immediately we get ready, in our own minds, to speak, and this attitude sets us up in a competitive relationship with them. Even practitioners in the Thinking Environment ® have to remain vigilant in checking who it is that they default to, because this underlying assumption is so engrained in us.
But it’s not only the listener who needs to consider whom they are defaulting to.
When I work in organisations one of the things I often notice is that it’s very difficult for people to take their turn to think in “the round”. They need time to get ready for their turn, and during that time they’re not necessarily listening to what’s being said. Instead they spend their time judging, evaluating and assessing what is and isn’t acceptable to say. The underlying assumption is that it’s not ok for us to think what we think, and so we are in perpetual judgment of our own thinking.
The component of Encouragement talks about internal competition, which can be devastating to our inner world. It’s the internalized negative assumptions we carry about our ability to think for ourselves, perhaps because we’ve had experiences where people put us down, or laughed at us, or ridiculed us for being independent in our thinking.
A person afflicted in this way goes into a conversation with an ongoing internal storyline that mostly absorbs them and stops them from truly engaging deeply: Does the person I’m talking to like what I’m saying? Do they agree with me? Have I upset them, or will they be upset if I say what I really think? This internal competition is very active, constantly checking and evaluating and scanning the horizons for threat and danger, and it diminishes our capacity to think.
Thinking is different to just having thoughts. Thoughts come and go of their own volition, and are mostly repetitive. We have a lot of that in our world. Thoughts never challenge our assumptions, or create fresh thinking. Having thoughts doesn’t give us the courage to go to the cutting edge of our ideas, which is what being intelligent is all about.
The conscious act of thinking is completely different. It’s a creative act. When you find yourself in a situation where you can really trust that the person in front of you isn’t judging or evaluating you - in fact, they’re staying interested in where you’re going - that’s an incredible contract that we make. That’s the component of Encouragement. It says: we might not know where we’re going, but let’s go there anyway, because who knows what we might find there? One of the things I’ve noticed about Nancy is that she always – and I do mean ALWAYS – defaults to the thinker, even when the thinker is hesitant, or unsure, or uneasy, it’s as if Nancy only becomes more fascinated and drawn in by them, and wordlessly she always manages to encourage them to go further than they ever thought they could in their own thinking.
The Thinking Environment ® gives us permission not to compete with one another, and to stay interested instead. And when we’re able to do that, people fly. They’re able to come up with things that we could never have possibly come up with on their behalf. Quite honestly, in my opinion the component of Encouragement can save the world. When we are bravehearted - when we can go to the edge of our thinking and then fly off into unknown territory - that’s when we are truly alive and present to possibility.