Mental Health in the Workplace: Is there a place for silence in the workplace?

Mental Health in the Workplace: Is there a place for silence in the workplace?

This may seem like a strange thing to write about, but a recent talk I attended got me thinking about all the chatter that goes on in the average workplace.

The talk focussed on giving people the space to think without interruption and to verbalise their thoughts without others interjecting, interrupting or speaking over them. It got me thinking about some of the experiences I have had in past workplaces and how much interruption actually does go on. 

You have probably, at some point in your life, come across that fellow student, family member, friend or colleague who seems to constantly interrupt and talk over others. It can be incredibly frustrating to be on the receiving end of such a talker. You are in the midst of flow either silently or through verbalising your thought process and someone ‘helpfully’ interjects and whumph! the thought is gone! 

The idea behind giving people space to think is about allowing them to finish a thought process, or a stream of thoughts without disruption to the train of thought. Nancy Kline, author of Time to Think describes an interruption as an ‘assault’ on someone’s thinking and that by creating a ‘thinking environment’ we enable people to think more creatively, courageously and with more rigour. 

Kline’s theory is based around the premise that the quality of what we do is determined by the quality of the thinking that precedes it and through interruption we potentially undermine that quality.

By creating the ‘Thinking Environment’ we enable people to take the time they need to formulate thoughts and ideas and contribute more creatively to the organisation. 

One of the things I took away from the talk I attended was the practice of creating the ‘Thinking Environment’. We were tasked with sitting in pairs and just letting our ‘Thinking Partner’ talk about or think about whatever they wanted for eight minutes, without interruption. 

It felt a little odd at first, but actually improved the quality of my listening enormously and left my mind clear to really focus on what my ‘Thinking Partner’ was saying. When I was tasked with exploring my thoughts I found that I reflected on positive aspects of my life and things I am grateful for, which focussed my mind on constructive elements and left me feeling optimistic and energised.  

However, to be clear, this is not to say that having conversations and discussions at work is not valuable, but there is certainly a space for the “Thinking Environment’ in encouraging independent thought and creativity. I have also found that it works tremendously well in my personal life and now have weekly ‘Thinking Partnership’ time with my partner where we each get a few minutes to express ourselves without interruption. It is proving hugely insightful! 

With special thanks to Jenny Quinn who gave the inspirational and insightful talk that forms the basis of this topic of conversation.

For more information about creating a thinking environment, check out www.timetothink.com



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