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.