Why You Need to Embrace Silence in Your Coaching plus 6 Practices | by Dr. Sarah Evans MCC

Last month I talked about observation as a coach superpower. This month we look at another coach superpower: the ability to embrace silence, and the stillness and clarity that can be found there.

"We're fascinated by the words - but where we meet is in the silence behind them." Ram Dass

Silence is a practice

The ICF (International Coaching Federation) Core Competency number 5) "Maintains Presence" sixth and final descriptive sub-point says, "Creates or allows space for silence, pause or reflection." 1

How do you create space for silence, pause or reflection with yourself and your coachees?

Silence is not just the absence of talking, it's an active and generative practice. It's both an inner state of stillness and an outer stance of being fully present with another human being, listening deeply.

Without a space for silence, there is no space for reflection.

"Let silence do the heavy lifting"

Susan Scott's 2 seventh principle of "Fierce Conversations" is to let silence do the heavy lifting.

She invites us to, "Slow down the conversation, so that insight can occur in the space between words and you can discover what the conversation really wants and needs to be about."

When we're silent and offer spaciousness in our coaching, our coachees can take the time they need to follow their thoughts, explore their sensations and internal experience – being present with themselves.

When the pause button is pressed, there is an intentional space for both coachee and coach to notice the experience and open up awareness there.

Create new neural pathways

In her book "Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind", Nancy Kline noted, "It would take you 32,000,000 years, so say scientists, to count the number of electrical connections that are happening in their wondrous brain during that quiet. And in those connections ideas are forming, insights are melding, most of which you will never hear about." 3

For example, when we embrace silence after posing an open generative question or offering an observation, we're supporting our coachees in creating new neural pathways. And this creates space for learning and insight – literally increasing potential and capacity.

Further scientific support for silence

In their March 2017 HBR article 4 entitled, "The Busier You Are, the More You Need Quiet Time" authors Justin Talbot Zorn and Leigh Marz point to several studies indicating that silence, "restores the nervous system, helps sustain energy, and conditions our minds to be more adaptive and responsive to the complex environments in which we live, work, and lead."

One of the studies shared noted that mere moments of silence are associated with the development of new cells in the hippocampus - the region of the brain associated with learning and memory.

It seems like silence has a lot of benefits for our coachees.

Here are 6 Practices to support you in embracing silence

  1. Become aware of your own comfort level with quiet.
  2. Quiet your internal chatter and fragmented attention and experiment with being silent in coaching conversations. Notice what happens for you and in you. It is from this place that you can listen more deeply for what is in the silence.
  3. Practice pausing for a couple of seconds before and after you speak to offer more space for your coachee.
  4. Practice WAIT – or WAIST. Ask yourself "Why am I talking?" or "Why am I still talking?" to check in with yourself about how you are being present with your coachee(s).
  5. Embrace a practice of silent meditation or reflection. This enhances your capacity to manage your internal and external chatter, to become still and tune into a deeper awareness and insight.
  6. Turn to nature as a way to embrace your own silence, and enhance your creative thinking capacities. Many of the world's greatest creatives and thinkers did their best work while walking in nature. What can nature make possible for you?


Our silence supports our coachees to engage in a process of understanding themselves and to tune into their own deeper awareness, inner wisdom and creativity. They can move beyond reactive thinking to more clear and creative thinking as both inner and outer chatter is quieted. And this means space is created for unique knowledge and novel ideas to emerge.

What if you believed that attuned silence is alive with sensations, deep awareness and insights?

How would you dance in this silent space with your coachees?


1 ICF (International Coach Federation) Core Competencies (October 2019).

2 Susan Scott (2004). Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work & in Life, One Conversation at a Time. 2nd ed. (p. xvi) New York: The Berkley Publishing Group.

3 Nancy Kline (1999). Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind (2014 reprint). (p. 51) London: Cassell Illustrated.

4 Justin Talbot-Zorn and Leigh Marz (March 17, 2017). The Busier You Are, the More you Need Quiet Time, HBR.

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Sarah Evans, MCC Guest Author

Contributing Author:

Dr. Sarah Evans, PhD, MCC, Dip. CS is passionate about working with visionary decision-makers and influencers inspired by the transformative potential of coaching. She is an executive leadership & team coach, facilitator, OD consultant, coaching supervisor, and mentor coach at Evans Leadership Group. Sarah is dedicated to cultivating resilient leaders—supporting individuals, teams, organizations and coaches lead and thrive in complexity. Her goal is to maximize human capacity, organizational capabilities, and contributions to societal well-being. Her key working themes are relationships, resilience, results! Visit her website here and connect with her on Linkedin. Sarah is a member of the International Coach Federation, where she holds a Master Certified Coach (MCC) credential.

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

Image of Coach listening in silence to client by fizkes via Shutterstock


  1. Samantha Dawe

    I think the power of silence cannot be underestimated in coaching but there are some interesting practical subtleties to this which it would be great if you could explore in follow up piece perhaps?
    - coaching online - do they think you have 'frozen' when in fact you are being quiet to listen?
    - coachees who find silence discomforting....etc so maybe a signal to show you are quiet on purpose!!!

    • Emma-Louise

      Hi Samantha, great questions/points!
      1) coaching online - do they think you have 'frozen' when in fact you are being quiet to listen?
      This can happen (but not often I wouldn't think - especially after the first time the client may get the idea!. And it can help to let clients know you're giving them space to think - as you suggest below!
      2) coachees who find silence discomforting....etc so maybe a signal to show you are quiet on purpose!!!
      Julie Johnson literally just mentioned doing this here! So, yes, a great idea 🙂 https://www.thecoachingtoolscompany.com/heart-to-heart-with-julie-johnson-silence-biggest-compliment/
      Warmly, Emma-Louise


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