Skip to main content

Thinking Partnerships

We all think. All the time. We think about what things we need to do, the things we’re doing and all the things we’re not doing.

What seems confusing, then, how little time we spend on structuring our thinking before we start doing. After quite some time of thinking the value I bring is my ability to do, act, strike from the hip, I was surprised to learn that stopping to think was a super-power I wasn’t spending time on.


In her book, Time to Think, Nancy Kline says “The power of everything we do depends on the quality of the thinking we do first”

Nancy Kline goes on to explain that given the right environment, thinking can help people unlock the answers to their own challenges. One of those environments is the mentoring relationship.

Here is how to use the Thinking Partnership in your mentoring sessions when you’re working through a challenge:

  • In your mentoring session, you can decide to use a Thinking Partnership to get the conversation going, or if you feel stuck when trying to understand a challenge
  • You each get a role: The Listener and The Thinker

👂The Listener: Your role is to ignite the thinking of The Thinker. You do this by listening attentively without judgement or interruption.

💭 The Thinker: Your role is to think out loud. You can think out loud about anything that’s challenging you, blocking you - whatever is on your mind.

How it works

Once you've got your roles, the Listener asks the question: What would you like to think about and what are your thoughts?

  • The Thinker then thinks out loud. The Lister may not talk. You have 7 minutes.
  • The Thinker speakers until they’ve run out of things to think/ say

If The Thinker runs out of things to say, The Listener may ask: What more do you think or feel or want to say?

  • If nothing else comes up, you sit in silence until the time is up.
  • At the end of the 7 minutes, swap roles.
  • Once you’ve each had a turn, take time to appreciate the other person’s thinking.
  • After appreciating each other’s thinking, there is an option to explore some of what came up in the thinking by using specific questions to help unblock underlying beliefs or assumptions. These are called Incisive Questions.

Incisive questions

Incisive questions are questions to ask after the thinking partnership, based on any issues that came up that you’d like to discuss in more detail. Here are some examples of incisive questions:

  • What assumptions are you making that are getting in the way?
  • If you knew you were going to be the boss, what problem would you solve first and how?
  • If you knew you were vital to your company’s success, how would you approach your work?
  • If things could be exactly right for you, how would they have to change?