Why silence in coaching is goldenPosted in : HR Updates on 11 March 2019
I hate awkward silences. You know that feeling when you’re talking to someone and run out of things to say and there’s this uncomfortable pause and pressure to speak even though you’re unsure of what to talk about?
Well in coaching, silence is golden. Silences are necessary to allow the coachee time to think and for the coach to actively listen. Silence is in fact a powerful coaching skill that takes time to master as our natural reaction to silence is to fill it thinking we’re putting the coachee at ease, like we do in everyday conversation.
But it is important to avoid jumping in straight away when you ask a coaching question. The coachee needs space to process their thoughts and formulate their own responses without the coach putting words in their mouth.
Unlike training where the trainer imparts their knowledge, coaching focuses on helping the coachee take responsibility for identifying their own solutions for moving forward, whether in work or life. Time to work through this process is necessary especially where the coachee may think that they do not know how to resolve their problems when very often it is tucked deep in their subconscious. Silence therefore should be encouraged to really allow the coachee to tap into their thoughts and not feel distracted or pressurised into making quick decisions.
We’ve very often heard of the 80-20 rule. This applies not least in coaching whereby the coachee talks for 80% of the time and the coach listens for 80% of the time. Allowing space to reflect will let the coachee feel listened to and be more likely to open up.
Given that the skill of silence takes a while to hone, the coach may wish to practice during social conversations allowing others to talk more than you normally would allow them. Most of us are guilty of talking over each other or secretly wishing that the other person hurries up so that we can say our bit; which is much more interesting of course. But being disciplined and holding back should give us some opportunity to practice outside of a coaching scenario. Even allowing silence after the coachee has provided their response is another useful habit to establish in case the coachee wants to add anything more. And for the benefit of the coach, silence should allow for active listening to really take time to think about what the coach is or is not saying.
But what if the coachee still doesn’t know what to say despite ample silence being provided? As a last resort the coach may ask the coachee permission to speak. The coach may be aware of an approach that has previously worked for them or someone they know and can ask the coachee if they think this is something worth considering. That way, you are still allowing the coachee to think for themselves and make choices rather than simply telling them the answer. Remember, coaching isn’t about what works for the coach, it must always include the outcomes of the coachee.
Prior to a coaching session, or as an introduction it may be useful for the coach to explain to the coachee what coaching actually is and what it involves. Highlighting from the onset that the session will involve deliberate silences should help manage expectations and allow the coachee to relax and use the golden silence to their advantage.
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