10 Ways to Generate More Thinking

When you coach, and when you use a coaching approach to other professional conversations, how confident are you that the other person is doing their finest thinking?

In her seminal text ‘Time to Think’, Nancy Kline (1999) notices:

The quality of everything we do depends on the quality of the thinking we do first. The quality of our thinking depends on the way we treat each other while we are thinking.

She describes ten behaviours that generate our best independent thinking, known as the 10 Components of a Thinking Environment:

How can we use the 10 components to generate thinking?

1. Attention
Do we genuinely give our attention to our coachee or conversational partner? Steven R Covey wrote ‘Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.’ If the other person knows and believes that we are listening with genuine interest and respect, and will not interrupt, they can be free to think more creatively.

2. Equality
Could we do more to develop a shared understanding that coach and coachee are equal partners in the relationship, and both are learning?

3. Ease
Through our behaviour as a coach, how can we create ease, so that the coachee does not feel rushed and is able to think well?

4. Appreciation
Do we show appreciation for the things that are working well, and use a balanced ratio of appreciation to challenge?

5. Encouragement
Are we generous with our encouragement to think courageously and creatively?

6. Feelings
If needed to keep the coachee thinking clearly, do we allow the expression of feelings … just enough?

7. Information
If the coachee is working with incorrect information, do we – with their agreement – share the correct information?

8. Diversity
In team coaching, team facilitation or meetings, do we contract with the group to welcome diverse opinions, and make sure that everyone has the opportunity to share their views without reprisal for thinking differently?

9. Place
Does the physical environment say ‘you matter’?

10. The last component, the building of Incisive Questions is at the heart of generating our best independent thinking. An incisive question replaces an untrue, limiting assumption with a true, liberating assumption. At the end of the recommended process of identifying the limiting assumption and a credible liberating alternative, the question is ‘If you KNEW that (liberating assumption) was true, what would you do?’

Kline observes ‘The mind works best in the presence of a question’ (2009). One of the principles of Appreciative Inquiry (Cooperrider & Whitney, 1999) is the Simultaneity Principle – that the act of asking a question effects a change. So, the questions we ask are important. This focus on the importance of choosing the right question in order to generate the best thinking resonates with solution-focused approaches to coaching and other professional conversations. In its simplest form, it is also illustrated in the ‘What else?’ questions integral to the GROWTH model (Campbell & van Nieuwerburgh, 2017).

As educators and coaches, what questions can we ask, to help others (and ourselves) think more clearly? How can we use questions, instead of statements, to move conversations forward? How can we use the ten components of a Thinking Environment?


  • Campbell, J., & van Nieuwerburgh, C. (2017). The leader’s guide to coaching in schools: Creating conditions for effective learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
  • Cooperrider, D. L., & Whitney, D. (1999). A positive revolution in change: Appreciative inquiry. Taos, NM: Corporation for Positive Change.
  • Covey, S. R. (1989). The 7 habits of highly effective people. London: Simon & Schuster.
  • Kline, N. (1999). Time to think: Listening to ignite the human mind. London: Cassell.
  • Kline, N. (2009). More time to think: A way of being in the world. Poole-in-Wharfedale, UK: Fisher King Publishing.