I'm 52 years old and changing my bad habits isn't easy. I seem unable to stop eating ice cream every night at 10 p.m., and I continue to leave my keys on the island in the middle of our kitchen despite my wife's repeated appeals to place them elsewhere. So I was more than a little surprised when this old dog learned some important new tricks about listening better.
As a reporter, I've been a professional listener for most of my life. At Columbia University's School of Journalism, Professor Luther P. Jackson, the most influential educator in my life, drilled into me that good journalism is always about people. Thanks to his brilliance, I've spent my career trying to listen carefully to the people I write about. I always thought I was pretty good at it until I attended a recent meeting in Orlando, Fla.:
The two-day meeting was hosted by Scott Farnsworth, an estate-planning attorney who founded Sunbridge Legacy Builder Network (http://sunbridgelegacy.com). Farnsworth coaches lawyers, insurance agents and financial advisors on how to make estate planning more about people and less about legalese, and I wrote a story about his efforts last August. Then in February, Scott invited a group of ten professionals-including lawyers, advisors and me-to a brainstorming session about how to make his values-based style of estate planning more widespread. Changing the way estate planning is practiced is no small goal, of course, but Farnsworth's intentions are noble, his methods are innovative and his motives are pure. And two days in Orlando in February sounded pretty good.
Before I left, Farnsworth sent me Time To Think, a book by Nancy Kline, and he told me that Kline would be facilitating the meeting. On the flight down, I read most of the book and thought it was good. I had no idea how Kline's techniques would benefit me.
Meeting Kline and seeing her put her practices to use with our group was a powerful learning experience. Every person in the group was allowed to speak for five minutes on a topic in orderly rounds. No interrupting was allowed. I found that speaking for five minutes was easier than listening to someone for five minutes. At the end of each day of the meeting, I was exhausted from listening. People spoke from the heart, and one man cried during the session while speaking about his interactions with clients. I was profoundly affected by the Time To Think methods employed by Kline to facilitate the meeting.
When I came home, I found myself speaking differently with my wife and children. I was much more tuned in with them. I put some of the techniques I learned into practice with my staff. I'm not saying that I've been using the Time To Think principles all the time during the last few months, but I'm definitely much more aware of listening to people during crucial conversations. What I also learned from Kline's technique, however, is how my listening helps the other person think better as well. It's a rewarding experience.
Kline, 62, has this incredibly gracious bearing, and a calming, caring aura surrounds her. She started working on Time To Think in 1984 after running The Thornton Friends School in Washington, D.C., for 12 years and serving as director of the Leadership Institute for six years. Her clients include major global companies such as Pfizer and the BBC. She now lives in Oxfordshire, England, in a hamlet about 12 miles from Oxford near the River Thames with her husband Christopher Spence. (Now retired, Spence was the founder and chief executive of the famous HIV/AIDS Centre in London for ten years and then chief executive of Volunteering England and president of the European Consortium on Volunteering. He also was chairman of the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund. In all these ventures, Kline's Time To Think techniques were utilized.) I interviewed Kline by telephone from her home.
Gluck: Why did you write Time To Think? What's wrong with the way people think now?
Kline: What's wrong? Anything that isn't good as it can be-anything that is not enhancing human life, anything that is not an expression of what's finest in human beings-is what I'd like to change. The reason I'm interested in thinking is that all of those not-good things are a product of our thinking. Everything we do starts with the thinking we do first.
Gluck: It's such a big idea that you're talking about that a lot of people might have trouble relating to it. Bring it in a context my readers can relate to. You're a financial advisor. How will Time To Think help you?