Silence and the Coaching Session

As an introvert, I tend to welcome (and need) a good degree of silence.  I can sit comfortably for long periods, embracing silence as a close friend. I gain renewed energy and focus when I take time to soak in a quiet place. During times of silence, even a brief pause, I'm much more inclined to speak out of a greater sense of clarity. Outside of the coaching conversation, I have no problem with silence. But when silence overtakes a coaching session, I can start to feel uncomfortable. Too much "dead space" becomes unbearable, and I search for a way to end it. I recently invited a client to share his thoughts with me on our coaching experience. He proceeded to tell me that coaching, from his perspective, is geared toward rewarding the type-A verbal processors who are quick to speak.  I learned that this particular individual did not feel heard at times. He felt like he needed permission to wait and process in silence. Had I too often short-circuited the discovery process by interrupting silence with a question?

I didn't agree with my client's conclusion that coaching favors verbal processors, but I knew he was on to something which could help me grow as a coach. So I probed a bit further. It really came down to one question for me when working with non-verbal processors and/or clients who need space and time to think through an issue before a response: How comfortable am I with silence?

Father God invites us into the quiet place. Jesus often withdrew to lonely, quiet places (Luke 5:16). He realized the need for solitude and quiet. He was comfortable in the silence. And he served powerfully out of those retreats.

Tools to Transform the Conversation: Befriending Silence in the Coaching Session

  • Practice solitude. We are more likely to encourage silence with our clients when we as coaches are comfortable with it. Thirty seconds of silence in the coaching session may feel like an eternity to us, but it could be really appreciated by our non-verbal, thoughtful client who needs space to process something. When we allow for this, one of the benefits is that we are more likely to get to heart level issues. We can start getting re-acquainted with silence by taking 5 minutes two or three times per day to hit the pause button. Find a peaceful place. Read a Psalm, say a prayer, or simply sit with God in silence. Silence will gradually become your friend again, and most likely you will crave more.
  • Affirm the non verbal processor for their often well thought out responses even when it takes some time to get there. Affirm what they value and how they are wired. Phrases like these may be helpful: Take your time.  It's alright to pause here for a moment.  I appreciate the way you value time to think through and process decisions.
  • Give your client an opportunity to prepare for the next session ahead of time. Give them a bit of homework which requires them to think through an issue before meeting with you. They will most likely come to the session feeling better prepared and more confident. That's a win for both of you! In my second to last session with the above mentioned client, I asked them to come to our final session with some feedback for me. I never dreamed they would take this so seriously!  They went to work that week writing down their well thought-out reply, which proved to be very insightful and helpful.

In the natural world, the quietest places are often the deepest places...the deep sea, deep into the woods, a deep cavern. These can be frightening places to explore, involving a fair amount of risk and uncertainty. In the same way, navigating silence in the coaching conversation may feel risky and uncertain. However, as coach and client embrace silence, we allow God to take us deeper into those places of discovery.

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