Appreciation is not about being nice

By Cindy Vallance

APPRECIATION is the fourth principle that we need to develop to have a thinking environment. Nancy Kline suggests practicing a ratio of 5:1 appreciation to criticism when it comes to our interactions with others if we want them to think for themselves. How many of us get anywhere near that ratio?

Appreciation is not just about saying thank you – and even thank you isn’t really appreciation if it isn’t sincere and specific.

However, we work in an environment of debate and criticism. This isn’t a bad thing – we need to constantly question what appear to be facts to progress our thinking about a host of subjects and ideas. However, we can also take this to extremes. In general, being critical in our society can often be seen as equivalent to demonstrating intellect and therefore being positive becomes its opposite – naïveté or simplistic generalisation. But you don’t have to agree with someone to appreciate them and you don’t even have to like them.

Appreciation is not about empty flattery. People are smart enough to see right through this. Appreciation should be “genuine, succinct and concrete.” It should also be timely so don’t wait too long to express it. And it should also be direct. Why does it sometimes seem that when we do hear something positive it comes to us second-hand? Like any kind of feedback, appreciation is best expressed directly to the person to whom it is meant for.

And when someone expresses appreciation, do accept it, don’t dismiss it. Just say thanks. This response demonstrates you aren’t undermining their opinion or judgment and it will help you both develop a healthy thinking environment.


Don’t be discouraged: keep your eyes wide open

I was recently reminded of Peter Senge’s (1994) work on ‘Systems Thinking’ and change. He observes that often things (including behaviour) appear to “grow worse before it grows better”. He suggests that this happens because we start to see underlying issues more clearly. For us, those issues were previously either unmentionable, unnoticed or just not a priority.

This bubbling up of negativity, challenge and expectation can cause despair – we start seeing the dangers of the iceberg lurking below the waterline. Also, other people might not like the fact that we want to challenge ‘the way things get done around here’. But don’t be discouraged!

This is a measure that things are getting better; formerly ‘undiscussable’ problems have simply risen to the surface – things can now change! As Senge notes, taking things forward might mean that an occasional toe will be stepped upon. But keep experimenting, keep building a better understanding of what is needed and keep seeking solutions to make things better.

More from Peter Senge:

Senge P. (1990) The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organisation, Doubleday, New York.

Senge, P. (1994) The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, London.



Is ease possible in a climate of urgency?

By Cindy Vallance

I have recently written about the first two principles highlighted in Nancy Kline’s book “Time to Think.” The principle that follows on from ATTENTION and EQUALITY is that of EASE. Ease – this sounds like something we might make time for during an evening or at the weekend – if at all…and certainly not anything we have time for when we are at work. However, I have certainly heard people, myself included, say to others, “I am so busy, I just don’t seem to have the time to think.”

But isn’t it the “doing” that produces results? Yes – and the results we achieve are wholly dependent on the thinking that has preceded the doing. How can we achieve ease of thinking for ourselves and others?

A small way to practice ease is when someone approaches us, whether for an impromptu check in or a scheduled meeting where some thinking is required, focus on them. Not your watch or your to do list. Don’t tap your fingers or fidget (physically or metaphorically) or appear ready to spring up and dart away. Tell the person up front how much time you have; for instance “I have five minutes before my next meeting but during that time I am all yours.” If you really don’t have five minutes, perhaps it is best to find another time. If you create a climate of ease for them they will be able to think more clearly. And hopefully, they will return the favour to help you think.


Equality – so much more than compliance

By Cindy Vallance

Following on from the first of Nancy Kline’s ten principles for a thinking environment, ATTENTION is followed by EQUALITY. In this context Equality goes far beyond the public sector duties and legislative requirements that are part of the Equality Act, as important as these are. EQUALITY here means treating each other as ‘thinking peers.’ It is possible to treat people as equals as thinkers even in a hierarchy. There is often a tendency within organisations to believe that the higher people are in a hierarchy, the better people can think. This is simply not true.

Within the Change Academy initiative, we have discovered, with every conversation that takes place and every activity we take forward, that the perspectives of students, academic staff and professional services staff combine to provide a greater breadth of positive ideas and perspectives than any of us could come up with by working only with those in similar roles or at the same levels as ourselves. How do we do this on a practical level?

Firstly, in your meetings, (effective in smallish meetings of no more than 12), try giving everyone equal turns and attention since knowing everyone will have a turn improves the quality of everyone’s attention. If possible, try doing this at the beginning and end of each meeting. One example in Nancy Kline’s book described how someone in one organisation asks at the beginning of each meeting with her team, “What have you noticed that needs attention or change in this area that I might not have noticed? And then, “What do you think should be done about it?” She ensures everyone has a chance to respond without interruption, only asking questions to clarify, not to challenge or defend herself.  And she promises to think about each idea. And she follows through. Not by promising to do everything suggested but by letting her staff know what she decides to do with each person’s ideas and why. This takes time but her view is that it saves time overall because ideas have come forward she never would have thought of and overall, the commitment and engagement of her entire team have increased. They know that their thinking matters and that it makes a difference.

Nancy Kline states “Respect is the hallmark of a thinking environment. Equality is its base.”

“Resistance is useful”: a new assumption?

If we want to see change happen, and for it to occur in a meaningful, timely and impactful manner, we need to see any resistance that we encounter in a different light. Rather than considering resistance an unhelpful roadblock to change, we should perhaps see it (at risk of supplying any more old clichés) as both an opportunity and an indicator of progress. The opportunity is that resistance opens a door to new dialogue with others. As an indicator, resistance shows us that people are noticing what we are doing.

As Herrero (2006) points out, the assertion that “People are resistant to change” is untrue. The reality is that people are resistant to change if nothing in terms of what managers expect from them changes. Extending that notion, Seddon (2005) suggests that the reason people are resistant to change is that they often don’t see its relevance to their work, because the rest of the system – how they are managed, doesn’t change. With the right encouragement these people can identify and discuss the other areas where change might be required – and themselves, with the right support,  start to influence that wider change.

It is too easy to assume that “there will always be casualties – people not accepting change – and you need to identify and deal with them.”   Hererro does not accept this and also suggests that we need to reject the position that “skeptical people and enemies of change need to be sidelined.”

Instead when we manage change, Herrero suggests that greater care is required;

  • don’t assume that people have excluded themselves.
  • expect resistant behaviours to disappear when alternatives are reinforced.
  • give sceptics a bit of slack (they may well have something to contribute).
  • suspend judgement, be willing to be surprised, and don’t write people off too quickly.
Changes in your behaviour will influence others

We should also recognise that discord provides opportunity for debate and the development of new ideas. We always need to examine what these ‘outsiders’ are saying and learn from them what the issues or problems really are. Neither should we expect  “People used to not complying with norms will be even worse at accepting change.”  With viral change, Herrero encourages different routes to establishing new norms and for these approaches, ‘non-normative’ people often make good champions.

This means that anyone involved in change, at whatever level, needs to take on responsibility for getting on with the change, to be seen to do the things we want to see done. We need to be open minded and able to discuss and debate effectively, not quash dissent, but seek opportunities for engaging new ideas.

Rather than challenging the nay-sayers with a dogma that ‘resistance is useless’ perhaps we should have a new perspective that will engage their input: resistance is useful!

Read more…

Herrero, L. (2006) Viral Change, meetingminds, UK.

Seddon, J. (2005) Freedom from Command and Control, Vanguard Press, Buckingham, UK.