By Jane Cox
"Silence is one of the great arts of conversation" ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero
And a powerful coaching tool! Wherever you are on your leadership journey, just starting out or an experienced leader wanting to apply more of a coaching approach, mastering silence will transform your coaching skills.
At Work Stories, we show leaders wanting to enhance their coaching skills how to ‘hit the PAUSE button” to maximise their impact, and in this blog I am going to show you how you can start doing it too.
What happens when you hit the PAUSE button?
When you PAUSE in a coaching session, you intentionally create space for discovery. As creating a break in the conversation allows something else to happen:
That something might be:
Thinking about what has just been said
Or not said ~ What’s the overall vibe? What’s any non-verbal behaviour telling you?
Reflecting on a past situation or a future event
Processing new information
Making connections– with theories or concepts
Spotting patterns of behaviour, mindsets and limiting beliefs
Taking a helicopter view - being curious about how the broader system or relationships might be impacting things
Recognising you feel lost, and need to recap or regroup
Allowing the conversation to go in a new direction
Exploring feelings, desires, and what you’re really motivated to do
Using feelings to gain insights such as potential transference or counter transference
Acknowledging the reality of a situation
Accepting you need to make changes
Committing to action
That’s a lot isn’t it! And it’s not even an exhaustive list 😊.
PAUSE to Empower
By creating space for the other person, you are empowering them to think more deeply, to be more mindful, and discover things for themselves. You are giving them an experience that builds their confidence and helps them realise they already have the personal resources they need to take the next step towards achieving their goal.
PAUSE to Learn
By not providing answers, bizarrely you are providing answers, but doing it in a way that enables real growth and learning.
PAUSE to Connect
And that’s not all! Hitting the PAUSE button also strengthens your coaching skills by improving the coaching relationship. When you PAUSE, when you stop talking, you create the space to pay attention more consciously to the other person. You’ve gained an opportunity to demonstrate empathy, to gently encourage with a nod of your head or strengthen your connection through eye contact. On the receiving end of all that attention, the other person experiences you as someone that is genuinely interested in them and what they have to say. They feel valued and heard. There is an ease rather than urgency to the conversation. The type of ease that you typically experience when you are with someone you trust. Taking that together, the overall impact is a positive one for the coaching relationship, it strengthens the connection between you, and as we know from evidence-based research, a strong coaching relationship correlates with improved coaching outcomes.
So, Let’s PAUSE
What are you currently thinking? It’s a no brainer, right? Sounds simple, yes? or Let’s give it a go?!
Our experience of training leaders in coaching skills is that hitting the PAUSE button is a very simple concept to understand, and a foundational skill, but for some people can be incredibly difficult to do.
Not everyone is comfortable with silence
For some it’s physically painful, for example my husband lives with tinnitus which sadly means silence equates to a persistent high-pitched ringing in his ears.
For others it’s more of a mindset thing, a belief that any long gaps in a conversation will reflect negatively on their capability as a coach. That to be a good coach you must be seen to be “doing” something.
Or it might be a belief that silence is wasted time in a coaching session, and that as busy leaders the best way to help other people is to shortcut to the answers Job done. Tick.
Or that silence is so far out of their own personal comfort zone, that they feel a compelling urge to rescue you – to help you feel at ease by avoiding the embarrassment of an awkward silence.
But silence isn't about nothingness; Pausing is a powerful coaching tool.
HOW TO DEVELOP THIS POWERFUL COACHING TOOL
So, if you want to develop your ability to hit the PAUSE button in a coaching conversation what can you do?
My top 5 recommendations are to:
1) Get personally comfortable with Silence.
I want you to build your belief that silence is a positive thing for you. And to do that you need to create experiences that re-inforce this belief. A good starting place would be to:
Introduce small moments of peace & tranquility into your daily routine. For example, when you wake in the morning and just before you go to bed you could take 5 minutes to enjoy the peace of the moment, just sitting calmly, focusing on your breathing, and enjoying the sensations of stillness. If any thoughts start rushing around your head, as they probably will, just let them rush, don’t try to stop them, or pay attention to them, instead gently redirect your attention back to your breathing.
Or you could do a digital detox for part of your day, switching off all technology to create a distraction free zone,
Or you could go for a walk in nature spending time on your own – and enjoy that feeling of not having any responsibilities or pressure to entertain, or perform, to reassure or inform anyone else.
There are countless others way to get comfortable with silence, so I would also suggest you have a play around on Google (or any other search engine) exploring silence, researching mindfulness or meditation, or even signing up to experience a silent retreat!
2) Remind yourself of all the ways silence can benefit your coaching.
I’ve mentioned loads already… how it empowers others, creating space for discovery, growth, and personal learning. And importantly in a coaching context how it helps others achieve their desired outcomes.
3) Prepare to PAUSE
I also want you to experiment with PAUSING prior to a coaching conversation. To take 5 minutes in silence to pay attention to yourself. To “centre” yourself, putting any inner noise or judgements to one side- as this helps you to get into a relaxed, confident state, and ready to pay attention to the other person as soon as the coaching session starts. And that matters, as when we show genuine interest and curiosity for others it shines through our body language, other people feel the warmth of our positive intentions, and that helps them to relax too. And when people feel more able to open up, and fully engage it leads to better coaching outcomes.
4) Start doing it.
In your next conversation I want you to practise putting a conscious PAUSE after each question you ask i.e.
Pay ~ Attention ~ Use ~ Silence ~ Empower
If you find yourself wanting to immediately step in to help the other person, stop yourself – instead give them the gift of time, your full attention, and the space to encourage them to find their own answers. Let go of having to be the expert who provides the answers, instead let them surprise you.
To start with you might find the periods of silence seem longer to you than they actually are.
And to stop yourself speaking, you might want to count to 10 in your head before responding. Or preferably ask yourself some questions to heighten your awareness and impact. “What is this person really telling /not telling me?” Being curious about what you are noticing can keep you busy whilst you give them time to think.
If the other person continues to be silent, and you are worried they have not understood your question, you can re phrase or clarify your meaning, then PAUSE again.
And if the other person responds to your question, try another PAUSE to see if they have anything else to add. They will always tell you if they are ready to move on in the conversation.
5) Finally reflect on your experience
At the end of the coaching conversation, whenever you are using a new coaching technique, I would always recommend a period of reflection:
What worked well?
How could it have been even more effective?
To enhance your reflection, why not seek some feedback on how effective the hitting the PAUSE button coaching technique was for the other person. It will give you the confidence to keep on using it.
There it is, if you are looking to further improve your coaching skills, here are our 5 suggestions for how you can develop your ability to hit the PAUSE button in a coaching conversation. Have fun experimenting with this technique. I guarantee as a minimum you will learn something about your personal relationship with silence.
Author: Jane Cox
Jane is one our Work Stories founders and resident executive coach. To find out more about Jane click HERE