Coaching Fundamentals Part Eleven: Silence

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October 19th, 2015

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Holding the silence – like playing a hunch (Part 8) – is one of those things that more experienced coaches talk about to coaches in training, making it sound like a commandment or a rung that needs to be climbed in the ascent to coaching mastery. And yes, it can be all that, but it goes far beyond just “not speaking”.

What is the purposhutterstock_280855259se of silence in coaching, or in any human discourse? It allows a pause, a moment of uncertainty, of openness to whatever may come next. Even more importantly, it is a place of not knowing, a place of vulnerability, a place of being rather than doing, of waiting rather than pushing forward. It is particularly uncomfortable to those of us who – either as coaches or clients – are used to being rewarded for being “the cleverest person in the room”, the one with the quips, insights, solutions… to those of us who are used to moving things along, driving solutions and thinking two steps ahead… to those of us who are proud of being busy, in demand, and constantly active.

And it is exactly those – coaches and clients – who benefit most from silence. Silence from themselves (and their own well-practised chatter), but also silence in the presence of another: a silence that shows that we are not just acknowledged when we’re being clever, or insightful, or witty. That we are enough just in our selves, our imperfect but fully human selves.

This silence is very different from the “pausing between breaths”, or “counting to ten” silence; it acknowledges the moment, the person and the insight that is being born. It draws on presence, listening, choice, but also on trust: trust in ourselves, the other person and the moment. Trust that the only way of being in the world is not purely by acting, or speaking, or moving the moment forward, but that sometimes in gaps between thoughts true creativity happens.

How to recognise this silence? And how to distinguish it from the awkward “just don’t know what to say” silence? There are probably several answers to this, and most of them come from practice rather than books (or blogs). The one that works for me goes back to noticing our own feelings as a coach: if there is discomfort and anxiety and counting the breaths until we can say something, it’s likely to be unhelpful, or at least clumsy. If, however, our silence is the silence that we experience in the comfort of old friends, or in awe of new vistas, then it is highly likely that this is a silence that produces new insights and new beginnings.