We’ve all experienced it – that pause that appears after we’ve asked our coachee a particularly challenging question. I am talking about the sort of question that requires soul searching or an honest look at one’s own (often limiting) assumptions.
Our coachee’s first reaction to such a question can be an unusual amount of silence. Depending on culture and other factors, that silence can make our coachee feel socially uncomfortable, because they are not quickly doing what they’ve been asked to do: answer the question. They may want to say something trivial to fill the space and buy some time to come up with an answer. Yet doing that can distract them from fully focusing on the question and its emerging answer.
Quite recently, I asked a coachee for feedback at the end of a coaching session (which I frequently do). She answered, “You made me feel comfortable.” Curious, I asked which of the myriad of things I had done had made her feel comfortable. She answered without hesitation, “You said, ‘Take your time.’”
I probably use that phrase several times per week. When I do, I see shoulders relax downward, gazes shift upward or out the window, or notes being furiously written.
Here’s how it often goes:
Silence, offered as a gift, can create the space our coachees need for real progress.