<<< Back Posted: February 2015

The Conversation Stopper

Imagine the following:  you are coaching someone, and the exchange is lively. Questions are quickly followed by answers, and answers are quickly followed by new questions. There is energy in the room.

Then you ask what you think is a great open question, and the conversation comes to a dead halt. Silence. What happens next? Here are three common scenarios:

  1. You think “Oh, no!  They didn’t understand the question.“ So you rephrase it and ask it again.
  2. Or you think, “That must have been too personal.”  So you replace it with another question, or divert the conversation somehow.
  3. Or very possibly, you react with the thought “This silence is killing me, so it must be bothering my coachee.”  So you fill it to make the two of you more comfortable.

I believe that something fundamentally different may be happening. Your question could have been so thought provoking, that your coachee is simply…..thinking! And if you react in any of the above ways, you could interrupt that fine process.

Good open questions, the ones that make people think,  often create silence. And silence following a question can be one of the best signs that your question has triggered an important thought process for your coachee. 

So the next time your question is answered with silence, let that silence hang. You can even signal that you are happy to wait until they are ready to reply. Sometimes I’ll say “Take your time.”  Or I’ll just sit back and make some notes. Or I might even offer to get a new round of beverages, giving even more ‘space’ to the coachee.

Silence after a question is one of the biggest compliments your coachee can give to you.

"Music is the silence between the notes."

Claude Debussy


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