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Is Time to Think the secret to psychological safety?

Updated: Jun 18

Reflections on my experience of the Time to Think approach.

In recent months, I've had the privilege of joining an amazing group of women on a journey to become skilled Thinking Partners. As a qualified Thinking Partner, my role involves creating a nurturing space, posing thought-provoking questions, and most importantly, empowering individuals to think for themselves... think a little more... and then see how much further their thinking can go. I have been inspired by this experience and my reflections have deepened my level of self-awareness. In this blog, I am going to delve into my experience of Time to Think and reflect on how it can be a tool to support psychological safety in the workplace.

New beginnings

It’s day one of the course; I felt nervous, on edge, stomach churning, mind racing, all the ways anxiety plays out for me – but I hadn’t given myself the time to work out why... and so as soon as I was asked, ‘What would you like to think about...?’ tears streamed down my face. The opportunity to think about my feelings more deeply during a Thinking Pair led me to realise that I was nervous of how safe this space was for me to be vulnerable, honest and authentic. I knew I needed to be all of these things and more to get the most out of the course, both as a Thinking Partner and as a Thinker. It wasn’t only nerves that I felt, I was scared. Scared of judgement and scared to reveal my true self. I spoke, uninterrupted, for these 10 minutes, I was given full attention and afterwards the course facilitator hugged me and said ‘You’re safe here,’ - was it enough to feel safe? No, but those 10 minutes and that moment had certainly given me encouragement to be a little braver, to go a little further and to have a little hope that this space would be different, unique and safe.

Being a Thinker

When it came to being a Thinker later on the first day, I sat with my fear, noticing it but trying not to let it control me – I talked about past experiences that I hadn’t shared before, including how racism has affected my life and how lots of these experiences weigh on me to this day. Saying it out loud was liberating. Challenging the assumptions that I had allowed to be my narrative gave me a sense of control and empowerment. Like I had a choice of how to use these experiences positively, to understand they don’t define who I am, that I can choose to grow and develop and be a force for good. Who could have imagined that having time and space to think in this way could be so powerful? And what was it that allowed this space to feel safer than others?

It was striking that I could make progress on this in one hour, after a lifetime of resisting and putting the thoughts in a box. The Time to Think approach seems simple on the surface, but what I discovered was how powerful truly thinking for yourself can be. It doesn’t provide an instant fix, but it does promote self-awareness, challenge limiting assumptions and supports Thinkers to move forward positively in their lives, creating environments where people can learn, grow and flourish.

Bringing Time to Think to the workplace

When people feel safe, they can reveal their authentic selves. This vulnerability is the foundation of being able to admit mistakes, offer and receive feedback, as well as exploring creative solutions. Time to Think was a demonstration of how a leader’s commitment, and the words and actions that they use to support this, can be a powerful force for inclusion. Being told I was safe and then noticing how every behaviour, every movement and every word showed me that I was, made the Thinking Environment one that I could expose my inner thoughts and feelings, in order to think for myself and move forward with my challenges. How else might leaders use Time to Think to support psychological safety? A summary of my thoughts:

  • Start with a promise not to interrupt - it will change everything!

  • Listen, listen and listen some more... if someone comes to you with a problem to solve, try giving them uninterrupted space to think through their ideas and identify their own next steps.

  • Have a clear vision – spend time thinking about it deeply and create it with people who are different to you.

  • Articulate your vision aloud and then match every behaviour to this vision – simply saying ‘You’re safe’ isn’t enough, you have to use this as a lens to live by.

  • Be curious – about every person, decision and challenge that comes to your door - asking questions that help you to understand who they are, their experiences, the systems they are working in and the challenges they face, will empower your colleagues, particularly those from marginalised groups.

  • Simple doesn’t mean easy: we shouldn’t assume thinking just ‘happens’ - it is hard work, it takes courage to hold up that mirror, to be honest with what you see and to commit to moving forwards with something that might have been holding you back.

  • Appreciate: share your admiration for the qualities of people in your team, not just their outcomes, but the innate personal qualities that inspire you.

Time to Think is not a new concept, yet we remain in a world where thinking for yourself is so undervalued and happens so infrequently that we can easily forget its power. When was the last time you gave yourself time and space to think through an idea or challenge without interruption? I view Time to Think as a lens to live life through – empowering others to think for themselves and making a commitment to do this myself has changed my world. I’m proud and inspired to become a Thinking Partner, and I am looking forward to journeying further into the Time to Think world, and seeing how my relationships, career and life will benefit from doing so.

If you have something on your mind, let's chat and see how a Thinking Partnership can help you to move forwards and achieve your goals.

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