February 8, 2021

Have you seen the power of promising “I won’t interrupt you”?

By Paul Laughlin

The quality of thinking by someone who knows that you won’t interrupt them is much improved.

This post is a brief book review of the third in a trilogy of books on this topic by listening & coaching guru Nancy Kline. I shared in my review of “More Time to Think” how that book had benefited from a decade of more practical experience since the first book “Time to Think“.

Her latest inspiring book has the Ronseal-esque title “The promise that changes everything I won’t interrupt you“. In this passionate book, Nancy shares her latest perspective, after roughly another decade of seeking to enable Thinking Environments. Thus the book provides both a restatement of her previous thinking & some fresh insights.

Has Nancy changed her mind on the Thinking Environment?

In short, no. The first part of this book is focussed on readers understanding the importance and power of what Nancy terms Independent Thinking. She rightly restates something that feels even more true in these interruption saturated times, too many people are starved of thinking for themselves.

Much of this part of the book feels like a restatement of the argument made in her first two books. However, this is also validated with a decade’s more experience. So, for example, as Nancy revises the Ten Components of a Thinking Environment, there is a nuance & recognition of challenges that was not as clear previously.

I should also say at this point that I adore Nancy’s poetic & passionate prose. Even if this book were just a restatement of her previous thinking, which it is not, it would be worth reading for that. She writes as one who has learnt her craft over years & with the wisdom of someone who has thought long & hard about this topic. So, read this book slowly, it is worth savouring.

Do you recognise what it is to interrupt?

The second part of this book is a welcome & new addition to Nancy’s thinking. Although we can all recognise our own experience of being interrupted in a conversation, we may be blind to other interruptions. Beyond just raising our self-awareness of how easily we interrupt others, Nancy shares on systemic issues.

She shares four systems of interruption that she has identified:

  1. Conformonomics
  2. Digitstraction
  3. Persuasion
  4. Polarization

Her reflections on each and how they are damaging the quality of all our thinking are worth further thought. Let me explain what she means by each term briefly.

Conformonomics is the revealing of how we as consumers are manipulated by shopping experiences designed to play on our behavioural economics biases. She rightly reveals how this ‘same high street everywhere‘ has reduced our discernment & reflection before responding to impulse buys.

Digistraction is exactly the topic that is tackled by both Cal Newport and Nir Eyal in their books (click on those links for past book reviews). How smartphones, social media & all digital devices have sucked us into a world of shallow thinking with regular distractions.

Persuasion is a problem that predates both the above. The dark arts of advertising & sales that are used to undermine our independent thinking. This is an interesting topic & Nancy heartily recommends some books to explore this further. Suffice to say for now we need to wake up & notice it.

Polarisation is much more obvious to anyone who has followed the news over the last decade. Whether talking about Donald Trump, Brexit or enforced Lockdowns – we live in an increasingly polarised world. Even beyond the problem of fake news, our ability to even listen to “the other” has been eroded. Some views are felt ‘beyond the pail‘. Nancy rightly highlights how this limits our thinking abilities further.

When could you offer the promise to not interrupt?

The final part of this book focusses on understanding the promise, not to interrupt. Nancy shares how & where this can help. As with her previous two books, there are plenty of case studies & a passionate call to change the world with better listening (and thus quality independent thinking).

What is new here is how Nancy pulls back the curtain & shows us how a Thinking Session can work in practice. Given the limitations of conveying what is an auditory & internal experience through the written word, she does a great job. We are given the opportunity both to prepare ourselves & then to sit down with a Thinker & Listener to go through this step by step.

As a leadership mentor myself, what I found most useful here was the internal checklist that the Listener used when invited to speak. It helped bring to life the internal decision making process need to help select a question that would help the Thinker progress. You need to buy this book & read this section to grasp it, but in summary, the listener (or coach) is mentally checking at each stage:

  • Are you both still committed to their Independent Thinking?
  • What has their independent thinking produced? (more waves of thinking? a new outcome? an assumption? a key assumption? determined if the assumption is true or limiting?)
  • Has their desired thinking outcome changed?
  • What do they need now to help them reach that outcome?
  • What question will meet that need?

What could you release through a promise not to interrupt?

Once more in this book, Nancy inspires. She inspires us to think about our businesses, relationships, families & societies could be transformed by more independent thinking. Plus, to want to enable such thinking by promising not to interrupt people.

I also find it heartening how much Nancy reveals she is still learning 30 years on. I know how often I still slip into interrupting others, occasionally even my mentoring clients. It is an addiction that is hard to give up. But this book has relit my fire to rejoin the quest.

What about you? Have you experienced being a leader who offers not to interrupt those you work with? Have you given them genuine generative attention, because you are truly fascinated by what they will think next?

If not, I encourage you to think about what you will do next. Why not take some time now to think about one thing you want to do differently? I promise not to interrupt you.