by Martha Pasternack
As coaches, we engage many forms of meaningful communication. We restate our client’s messages to ensure our understanding, we are curious and ask open-ended questions. We also listen: we listen for contradictions, hidden fears and suppressed emotions, for changes in voice tone and quality. We look for body language: facial expressions, withdrawal or excitement. Yet, sometimes we have to look beyond the verbal and physical communication. Often silence can be used as a positive coaching tool.
There are a variety of ways we can support our clients to enter into silence. For example, we can encourage a minute of silence before each call as a way for ourselves and our clients to collect our thoughts. We can pause at strategic times during the session when sensing there might be more the client has to say. Inquiry that is open-ended and emanates from curiosity encourages silence as we open to our client’s response.
Many of our clients have been taught to honor another person’s needs, goals and desires before their own. This creates an obstacle for clients who are searching for their true voice. When we create silence in our coaching sessions, we create space for our clients. We hold that space with them so they have a safe place to explore and discover their authentic voice.
You have probably heard it said that some people “talk to think, others think to talk.” Those who think to talk require time to think, but those who talk to think require time as well. Pausing between questions is therefore a very effective way to invite our clients into silence and allow time for them to process their thoughts. Some people do not slow down enough to attune to a deeper meaning of their experience and encouraging silence is helpful. Pausing, letting the silence speak for us may take some practice or some getting used to, especially if it is contrary to your speech patterning. Yet with practice it will soon become one of your own tools to add to your coaching tool box.
There may be a cultural influence your clients bring to the coaching session that you may or may not be aware of. Some cultures speak very slowly and have long periods of silence in between thoughts. You are at risk of talking over your clients if you are not patient and attuned to this pattern of speech. Also at risk is fostering a connection built on mutual respect and understanding with your client. Deep listening is helpful here because you are as unique as your client and relationships are built on connection.
On the Circle of Life and along the pathway of Gentle Medicine, silence is a practice. When you enter into the silence you connect with yourself in a precious way. When you embrace silence in your coaching sessions you create space, allow time, and encourage connection for your clients to explore and discover their personal powers as well as foster an effective relationship with them. When you enter into the silence you can learn to quiet your mind, calm your emotions, and relax your body as a way to engage the personal power you possess.