So often in life when conversations come to a halt, people hold a tension around the resulting silence. The discomfort can compel us to speak, even when there is little to say. In many discussions, such silences never even appear, as the protagonists are so busy competing to get their points across that one person’s words are barely uttered before they are interrupted by the other’s.
For conversations that are simply focused on building connection with another, this high-energy style chat probably does the job. However, when someone wishes to explore, to reflect and to deepen their own thinking, a very different approach is required.
Coaches working with individuals wishing to make fundamental changes to achieve new outcomes will serve those coachees well when they overcome their own uneasiness with silence. Nancy Kline says: “The purpose of coaching is for clients to think – for themselves”. We need to give others the space in which to do that thinking. It is only when we are attentive, we listen, and stay quiet that we can truly help someone explore and reflect.
When silence happens people can spend time findings answers. Not immediate, consciously known responses, but new perspectives and insights from much deeper, reflective thinking. Such new thoughts lead to more possibilities, different actions and improved outcomes.
Keeping quiet when coaching – or having any conversation focused on helping another – is a skill well worth mastering. Or, as Will Rogers once said, “Never miss a good chance to shut up.”