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Thinking Pairs

Nancy Kline author of the book Time to Think developed and teaches groups how to use the meeting structure of a Thinking Environment to engage each person’s mind fully; to produce respectful; robust discussion; to make compelling presentations and to make decisions of exceptional quality.


Transformative listening comes from your fascination with where the person will go next in their thinking. It comes from the powerful message that you are giving to the thinker with your silence – that their intelligence is enough. 
 Even if you think you know what they are going to say next, please don’t say it. What matters is not what is said, what matters is what happens for that person while they are saying it. You can’t know where the thinking is going to go next – so try not to interrupt it.

  • To be interrupted is not good
  • To get lucky and not be interrupted is better
  • To know you will not be interrupted allows you truly to think for yourself

Participants of the group split into two to discuss the following questions

What are the issues and problems related to each individual’s area in relation to the planned change?

What is the prioritisation of these problems?

What action steps should I work on?

Remind everyone of the key factors for thinking pairs. Essentially these are that:

  1. Each Thinker will have 5 minutes of uninterrupted thinking time, during which the partner will not interrupt.
  2. Ideally the partner will maintain eye contact – the Thinker may turn away, the partner may not.
  3. This tells the Thinker that they are being listened to, that their thinking is important – and generates new thinking.

The first thinking partner asks the first Thinker ‘what do you want to think about, and what are your thoughts?’ The Thinker may speak at once, or pause to think. Wait. Don’t speak again. Just maintain eye contact, sit back, be comfortable with the silence.

  1. When the Thinker does speak, listen.
  2. When they stop speaking, keep listening. Stopping speaking does not mean we have stopped thinking. Speaking at that moment might interrupt the most brilliant and interesting new thought. So please don’t. Your turn to speak will come later. What more?
  3. If the thinking does stop, the Thinker will say so – using a phrase like ‘that’s all,’ or ‘I’m done’. So then the partner asks ‘What more do you think?’ And thinking will probably start up again. New thinking.

After 5 minutes, the Thinker finishes, and thanks the partner. They change roles.

  1. The new partner asks the Thinker ‘What do you want to think about, and what are your thoughts
  2. The Thinker then thinks and speaks for 5 minutes of uninterrupted time.

At the end, both Thinkers can thank each other and appreciate a quality that they have noticed. ‘I appreciate your energy – thank you.’