10 steps towards becoming a better listener

In her book entitled, ‘A time to think,’ Nancy Kline wrote about the importance of business leaders to give people the time to think for themselves, and to let people come up with their own solutions, instead of telling them what to do.

As leaders, we need to be able to think for ourselves and also learn how to set up conditions at every meeting with people, to allow them to think for themselves.

What is summarised below are Nancy Kline’s 10 components to creating a thinking environment.


  1. Attention

This means listening with respect and interest without interruption. The quality of your attention profoundly affects the quality of other people’s thinking.

Knowing that you will not be interrupted free’s you truly to think for yourself.


  1. Equality

As thinkers we are all equal – even in a hierarchy, people can be equal as thinkers.

Equality is about treating each other as thinking peers and ensuring that we give equal turns and attention.

Knowing that you will have your turn in the conversation improves the quality of your own attention and thinking.


  1. Ease

From your behaviour you can create an environment where people can think better around you and this means communicating with them in a way that is free from internal rush or urgency.

Ease creates thinking and urgency destroys the thought process.


  1. Appreciation

The human minds thinks at its best in the context of genuine praise and appreciation.

When meetings begin with an appreciation on the work of the group and ends with a reflection on what the meeting accomplished, as well as on what people respect about each other, thinking remains at a high level.

  1. Encouragement

You can set up a thinking environment by encouraging the person to think beyond their initial thoughts.

You can do this simply by:

  1. Asking them incisive questions that force them to think beyond their current boundaries, and
  2. Encouraging them to expand on their current thinking, by coaching them to come up with their own solutions.

During this process, it is important for you to manage your own response stream.


  1. Feelings

When speaking to an emotionally charged person, it is sometimes best to let them vent their emotions.

This allows sufficient emotional release to restore thinking:

  1. Crying can make you smarter
  2. After laughter thinking improves; and
  3. Listening through anger makes way for thinking.

By allowing a person to vent their feelings, thinking can be moved from an emotional level to a more rational state.


  1. Information

If you know of some information that could assist the person to think on a higher level, then share this information with them.

As leaders, we need to learn how to share information to allow people around us to use that information to think on a deeper level as well as come up with solutions that you, yourself might not have come up with.


  1. Diversity

Learn to welcome divergent thinking. As business leaders, solutions to business problems comes from having people with both diverse backgrounds as well as diverse ways of thinking.

As a consequence, become interested in a divergent viewpoint.


  1. Incisive Questions

Learn to ask incisive questions as these raise awareness to a new level.

There are different types of questions that could be used within the context of a conversation, including:

  1. Open ended questions;
  2. Closed questions;
  3. Rhetorical questions;
  4. Situational questions;
  5. Action questions;
  6. Thought provoking questions; and
  7. Clarifying questions.

By asking a series of the questions from the categories above, it forces a person to analyse their problem or issue in a range of scenarios, leading to new insights.


  1. Place

As business leaders, we can create an environment to communicate that shows that we care.  When the physical environment affirms the importance of holding the discussion, thinking will stay at a high level.

Subtle changes, such as moving the chair to the side of the desk, shows that the ‘barrier of the desk,’ is being removed and you cared enough to engage conversation at that level.


In summary, we think at our best when:

  1. We are ease;
  2. We are not rushed;
  3. People show interest in us;
  4. Our minds are free of fear;
  5. We know we are respected;
  6. Our questions are welcomed;
  7. We trust our own intelligence;
  8. We have accurate and complete information;
  9. We know specifically how we are appreciated;
  10. The physical environment is clean, light, accessible and in communion with nature.


May you use the 10 steps listed above to become a creator of inspiring thinking environments yourself!




Read: “A Time to think” Nancy Kline

Website: www.atimetothink.com

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