The quality of your support to your clients often depends on your ability to listen and to create space for thinking by your client, said Symphonia Leadership Development CEO Louise van Rhyn during a recent episode of the IBASA & EPI Webinar Series. As a leadership development practitioner, Van Rhyn founded Partners for Possibility and lecturers in leadership at the University of Stellenbosch Business School.
During the webinar, Van Rhyn noted, In supporting Nancy Kline’s work on the power of thinking and listening, that “the quality of everything we do depends on the quality of the thinking we do first”. While the challenge is that we do not create enough quality thinking spaces for ourselves and our clients, we can easily address this with techniques that may help us to improve our quality of thinking.
One such technique is called “Discovery Writing”, where you take time out to describe a situation in full sentences. The idea is not to write what you know, but rather to discover what you think through the process of writing in full sentences.
Webinar attendees were allowed to practice using Discovery Writing during the webinar, by answer 5 questions in full sentences, namely:
- What is the issue or challenge?
- What are you trying to achieve?
- Who are the people contributing to the challenge?
- What is causing the stuck-ness at the moment?
- What do you need to do to move this forward in some way?
This practical exercise set the tone for this CPD webinar, which may very well have been a real-life workshop, as the attendees were engaged in practical activities and lively discussions throughout the event.
Van Rhyn mentioned that Nancy Kline described several components of a “Thinking Environment” in her writing. As Kline wrote: “The most generous and respectful thing we can do for ourselves and for each other is to create environments where we can do our best thinking”. One of these components of a Thinking Environment is for a “thinker” to be heard by a “listener”.
In our context of supporting small business clients, it is the client that is the “thinker”. For us to create a good Thinking Environment for our clients, our role becomes that of a “listener”, but our listening must contribute to the Thinking Environment so that it may empower our clients to find new solutions, Van Rhyn said.
Often, we remain stuck in basic levels of listening, but by moving to higher levels of listening, we can be thinking partners for our clients that result in quality solutions. Van Rhyn explained the four levels of listening as:
- Listen to respond, where you wish to guide or instruct, and where you make quick judgments;
- Listen with an open mind, where you are holding back with a willingness to learn;
- Listen with an open mind and an open heart, where you do not judge and remain authentic in your listening; and
- Listen to ignite, where you can empower your client to deeper thinking.
During the webinar discussion, various observations about listening were made by attendees. For some it was the first time to be confronted with the idea that deeper levels of listening will create the space for higher-quality thinking, leading to better results for their clients; and that it will be best for them to stop directing their clients, who are in any case not following their advice, and rather be creating a Thinking Environment that may lead to the empowerment of their clients to find solutions that will otherwise have remained hidden.
Van Rhyn explained that the relationship is to be treated with care between you as the “listener” and your clients as the “thinker”. In this regard, a consulting approach, such as Peter Block’s “Flawless Consulting”, provides a framework for you to follow in supporting your clients.
Block says that “the delivery vehicle of your expertise is your humanity”. It is your humanity as a supporter of your clients that allows you to guide them throughout a five-phased consulting process, as suggested by Block, which consists of:
- Contracting, which deals with determining if you are the right person to help and confirming which of the client’s expectations may be met;
- Discovery, which deals with collecting information, diagnosing the situation and developing your own sense of the client solution;
- Feedback and decision-making, which deals with involving the client in analysing the collected information, confirming the goals and planning for change;
- Implementation, which deals with acting on the prior decisions and planning; and includes implementing the solutions decided upon; and
- Review, which deals with the assessment of the need for extension, recycling or termination of the process.
Creating the opportunity for your client to speak with you as a compassionate human being may not be that difficult, said Van Rhyn. To prove this, webinar attendees were offered the opportunity to break into small groups of two or three, with one attendee being given the opportunity to explain the situation they described in the Discovery Writing activity earlier in the webinar. The listener(s) were only allowed to ask “And what more…” so that they could remain in the listening mode without having to respond. Through such deeper level listening, we create the Thinking Environment best suited for our clients to find the needed solutions.
This practical CPD webinar allowed attendees to explore ideas about the creation of a Thinking Environment for their clients by being aware of how they listen and to be in service of their clients as “the thinkers”. To share in their experience, you can watch the video recording of the webinar.
- To join the upcoming CPD webinar you can << REGISTER HERE >>.
- Christoff Oosthuysen is the webinar host, Founding CEO of the Entrepreneurial Planning Institute (EPI) and General Partner at Seed South Capital.