Silence: The Biggest Compliment Your Coachee Can Give... | Get "Heart to Heart" with Julie Johnson MCC

Coach or Coachee pondering powerful question

In this column "Heart to Heart with Julie", Julie Johnson MCC shares sample coaching conversations and situations to help us grow. These are real coaching experiences that illustrate common issues we face as coaches, and Julie also shares her learning, ideas and practical tips to help you become a better coach.

Please share your thoughts, takeaways and your own experiences in the comments below!

These articles were first posted on Julie's blog, The Coaching Cube, and have been updated for inclusion here.

In this article we reframe a common challenge for coaches...

Imagine your coachee goes silent on you:

You're 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 3 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.

Here's my take:

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. So silence following a question can be one of the best signs that your question has triggered an important thought process for your coachee.

Now it's your turn:

The next time your question is answered with silence, let that silence hang.

It can help to signal that you're happy to wait until they're ready to reply.

Here are 3 ways you can give your coachee some space:

  • Sometimes I'll say "Take your time."
  • Or I'll just sit back and make some notes.
  • (For in-person coaching) I might even offer to get us both a beverage, giving even more 'space' to the coachee.

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

Share your thoughts with Julie in the comments below.

If you liked this "Heart to Heart" column from Julie Johnson, you may also like:

Julie Johnson

Contributing Author:

Julie Johnson MCC, MIM is an Executive Coach, Coach Supervisor and Author. Her purpose is to help motivated people be at their best. She's passionate about spreading quality coaching conversations farther and wider, impacting the lives of people she'll never meet. Julie helps leaders develop an authentic Coaching Leadership Style so they grow next-generation leaders - and scale their own leadership. She also loves creating synergies by connecting 'the right people' with each other. Meet Julie in this short video here and learn more about her on her website here. You can also sign up for her monthly blog The Coaching Cube.

Learn more about Julie & see all their articles here >>

Image of Coachee or Coach pondering powerful question by Monkey Business Images via Shutterstock


  1. Kim Robertson

    I have felt such anxiety around the moments I felt like I should be asking questions. I recently felt that anxiety of not having something to say and believed I should be saying something, I stayed quiet and just before I said something that wasn't the best question probably since i was feeling anxiety, she talked in more detail. Its when I truly understood where I was feeling this and what I was feeling because of my beliefs. The power of silence!! i will not forget this! I am a good listener and I am comfortable with giving space, but once in awhile I fall into the trap of my mind...telling me something that is not for the highest good of anyone.

    • Michela Phillips

      It's so common for us to be uncomfortable with silence, it's a good reminder to practice consciously being able to sit in silence and become more comfortable with it. Thanks for sharing, Kim!
      - Kindly, Michela

  2. Elena

    Thank you, Julie. I totally agree with this. Every time that I find myself being uncomfortable with silence, I check-in with myself and then tell myself: "hold!" Every time the client comes back with an insight or something that I did not expect to hear, which signals me that they needed to have that time to think and process the question.


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