Good coaching often involves unusually lengthy silences. What is actually going on during this still space? What follows is a conversation that demonstrates the kinds of things that could be happening.
COACH: You asked me if I had any feedback to offer you after having seen you in action with your team last week. I have a few thoughts. Shall I share them?
COACHEE: Sure, that would be great.
COACH: OK. One thing I noticed is that when it was your turn to comment, you suddenly started combing your hands through your hair and readjusting it, and you did not look anyone in the eyes.
COACH: At the same time, I saw your teammates seeming to ‘hang on every word’ coming out of your mouth. They asked several questions to get more information, and discussed what you said for quite some time.
COACH: What was going on for you at that moment?
If the coach would let the silence hang, what might be going on for both COACH and COACHEE during that silence?
- Busy experiencing a ‘flashback’ to recall the situation
- Processing her own surprise around her behavior, as she was not at all aware of playing with her hair or avoiding looking her teammates in the eye
- Accepting that this surprising feedback is probably accurate
- Starting to reflect on what could be behind her behavior in that moment
- Wondering about other situations where this might be happening
- Realizing that she hadn’t noticed that her teammates ‘hanging on to her every word’
- Wondering what feelings the coachee is experiencing as she receives and processes this feedback
- Curious about whether the coachee was aware of her behavior at the team meeting, or if she is surprised to learn that she played with her hair and avoided eye-contact while speaking
- Waiting to hear what the coachee will say next (first reactions are fascinating)
- Intensely observing the coachee’s non-verbal reaction to the feedback (any repetition of the behavior, for example?)
- Wondering how this feedback could impact the coaching relationship (and imagining a slew of possibilities in all directions)
At this point (after that silence), the coach could (and I believe probably should) wait until the coachee responds, and be ready for … anything!
What is my point here?
When you create a moment where silence hangs heavy – you are probably ‘on a roll’! Sparks are flying! Silence is one of the biggest compliments you can receive as a coach, as you have created a moment of deeper reflection. Let it hang heavy to allow the space for both coach and coachee to get A LOT done.
During a well-crafted silence, your coachee is BUSY, and so are you!