It is frequently said that of all the tools available to a coach one of the most powerful is silence. It is the time when the client is able to:
- wrestle with understanding the question
- consider their reply
- think through options and new perspectives
- be creative
- pause for a ‘mental break’
It can also be time that allows the client time to achieve less helpful outcomes – albeit often innocently or subconsciously:
- create ‘cover’ stories to protect themselves
- disengage from the conversation or shut-down
- allow negative or defensive emotions to brew
Irrespective of how the client uses the time, the coach will need to deal with the results of the silence and indeed, this in itself is central to the coaching process.
Silence and the Coach?
What is much less frequently written about is what the coach might do in those moments of silence. I think the answer is a range of things depending on your judgement about the reasons the client is now silent. Where there is creativity and positive thinking apparently occurring, my view is the coach should do very little to disturb this. At other times allowing the client to ‘decompress’ may be best achieved by a small activity such as you writing a note in your coaching notebook.
However, the most important and powerful activity that a coach can undertake in those moments of silence, is to notice. Observe many aspects of the coaching relationship: the Client; yourself; the dynamic between the two of you and your environment. Study each, and reflect on what you notice. Reflect on why you notice what you notice and what the effects of that are on each of the variables in the list above. When the time is right, comment on them if it might be important to the progress of your client. Don’t if it isn’t or can be saved for a time when it seems to ‘fit’ better.
Breaking the Silence
Even when you have finished your activity in the silent period, your client may not. Generally speaking, I would not be the first to break the peace and quiet, although it can be very tempting to do so. Many a time have I found myself just about to launch into a question when the client breaks the vacuum at that very moment with an inspirational point to make – that would have been lost if I had trampled all over their quiet time.
Managers I have worked with for whom the pace of life Monday-Friday is hectic, often want to fill the silence with an idea or another question to “get things moving” – try resisting the temptation to do that, within the bounds of reasonableness. Hold back. Respect the thinking that is going on. You’re likely to be amazed by the power of silence.
Glenn Wallis is an experienced Executive Coach and Coach Developer who will help you improve your own results and those of your organisation. When you are ready to raise your performance to the next level, find out more here