What's Really Going on When a Client is Silent? | Get "Heart to Heart" with Julie Johnson MCC

Coachee pondering Silence

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. 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.

The Power of Silence

In this article we take a closer look at the power of silence, because good coaching often involves unusually lengthy silences.

But what's actually going on during this still space?

Well read on! Below we review a short conversation and then explore the kinds of things that could be happening...

Sample Conversation:

  • 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 PAUSES]
  • 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?
    • [COACH PAUSES and allows lengthy silence]

So, what could be going on during this coach-created silence?

The coach now lets the silence hang. What might be happening for both COACH and COACHEE during that prolonged pause?

The coachee may be:

  • 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'.
  • And many more!

What ideas can you think of that the coachee may be doing in this crafted silence?

The coach may be:

  • 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).
  • And many more!

What ideas can you think of that the coach may be doing in this silence?

Then what?

So what's next? Well, the coach could (and I believe probably should) wait until the coachee responds, and be ready for …anything!

Here's my take on silence:

Silence gives our coachees a rare and precious moment to pause, learn and grow. Silence is also one of the biggest compliments you can receive as a coach—you've created a moment of deeper reflection.

This means that when you create a moment where the silence hangs, you're probably 'on a roll'—inside, sparks are flying! So let it hang heavy to allow the space for both coach and coachee to get A LOT DONE.

Consider that the pauses and silences we generously—and purposefully—offer our coachees are a beautiful opportunity for realisation and transformation.

And remember that during a well-crafted silence, your coachee is BUSY, and so are you!

Now it's your turn:

  • What stops you from being comfortable with silence?
  • How do you feel differently about silence during a coaching session after reading this article?
  • Where and when (specifically) could you offer more silence for your coachees?

Share your thoughts with Julie in the comments below.

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.

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 here >>

Image of Coachee pondering during silence by Gorodenkoff via Shutterstock

4 Comments

  1. Anna

    Love this blog.. There was a time when I was afraid of silence in my coaching practice, now I embrace the silence. It’s interesting to feel the enjoyment the silence!

    Thank you!

    Reply
  2. Angie McGreevy

    I've only recently started coaching and once or twice I've worried I've not been quick enough to fill a long gap, but it's at these times I've received the most poignant responses from my coachee!

    Reply
    • Michela Phillips

      Great insight, Angie! Over time you'll get more comfortable and find your rhythm 🙂
      - Kindly, Michela

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.