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Learning the Power of Silence

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Joshua Ramey-Renk  |  Jul 12, 2017
Photo Credit: monkeybusinessimages

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on and grow my comfort level with a skill that is much, much harder to manifest than it should be, at least for me. The importance of not talking, of deliberately letting quiet hold sway, manifested in my life in unexpected ways that ultimately have helped me become a better coach. It took a couple of experiences, of life lessons, to bring home exactly how important it can be.

The first lesson

One night, one of my peer coaches was looking at me steadily through the Skype screen, and I could see her weighing her next piece of feedback thoughtfully.

“You might,” she said slowly, “want to think about using a little more silence.”

I thought carefully about what that statement meant to me. On one hand, I felt that I had come a long way in using the power of silence to support others in finding their own voices. I was proud of paying special attention to inviting my clients to sit for a moment in the space of a revelation, to feel their moment. Now, one of the people I trusted the most in the world to see my strengths and be upfront about my “areas of improvement” was suggesting that maybe I was missing the mark.

I took her comments to heart and pondered what this would mean for my practice and how to engage in “more silence” while still being a strong Co-Active partner.

The second lesson

On a week-long volunteer service event that was fraught with a slew of emotional highs and lows, I came across a teammate sitting alone a few feet away from where most people were gathered. Her shoulders were shaking and her face was buried in her hands. It took me a second to realize that she was crying. And it took another second to quell my reaction — which was to immediately ask her, “What’s wrong? What can I do for you?”

Instead, I thought about the CTI cornerstone that “People are naturally creative, resourceful and whole”. And it struck me: if she needed or wanted help, she’d ask for it. So I just sat with her, saying nothing, my hand on her shoulder, until she was cried out and could let me know she was OK, just a little overwhelmed by the day.

Rather than tell her “I’m here for you…just let me know what you need,” and forcing her to consider how much she felt like sharing or whether or not she was burdening me with a request, I was just there in that moment with her. Silent. Present.

It was that simple.

Putting it together

Now, when a client has new insight or an ah-ha moment, I check myself before I jump right into recognizing or pointing out their new state of understanding. I work to stay right there in the moment with them, my silence Co-Actively creating the space with them for everything to sink in, saying nothing, and staying out of the way of their internal experience. In time, in some way, they always let me know when it’s time to break the silence to acknowledge, call out or celebrate.

While it may feel counterintuitive, especially for newer coaches like me, I find that when I am present but not intruding, I’m more fully connected to my clients and I feel their own engagement in their process grow stronger. I encourage coaches at all levels to consider the great power of silence in coaching, and what a gift it is to simply sit with our clients in their deepest moments.

Joshua Ramey-Renk

About Joshua Ramey-Renk

Joshua Ramey-Renk is actively pursuing Co-Active Coaching training at the San Rafael offices and has over a decade of experience in staff training and organizational development, recruiting, and program management. He has worked in both for- and non-profit sectors and is currently the Vice President of Talent and Organizational Development at a large credit union in Silicon Valley. Joshua holds an MBA in International Management from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. He encourages feedback and open debate on all of his postings, here in the comment section or directly to him at jrameyrenk@gmail.com. Opinions and recommendations do not necessarily reflect those of any current or future employer.

What People Are Saying

very nice article. Silence is very powerful. “Silence is a true friend who never betrays.” by Confucius

Great quote-thank you, Qasim!

I love what you write here Joshua as it sounds so simple but is often not always easy in practice, particularly when starting to coach. Living in a world of 24 hour constant and immediate distraction with little “white space”, silence can be very valuable and very powerful. I recently read something along these lines which really resonanted with me: “Silence is not empty, it is full of answers.” Thank-you again for the reminder.

Lourdes, thank YOU for the comment and the reminder about how full silence can be :)

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