The Productive Pause

So often we think about coaching as a series of conversations. This puts the emphasis on talking: powerful questioning, direct communication, and active listening are three of the core coaching competencies. But the process of coaching goes beyond what gets said, overtly or implicitly, in a coaching session. The process of coaching is also what happens between sessions, and it is also the meta-analysis of what’s going on between coach and coachee during a session. Learning to take a step back from the core issue and articulate what’s going well and what could be going better between coach and coachee is a core part of keeping the coachee’s goals at the heart of the coaching process. And sometimes the best thing to do is pause.

Silence in a coaching session can give the coachee time to think or process internally before verbalizing where their thoughts are taking them. In silences like these, it’s the coach’s job to know when to intrude with a well-timed question to help the coachee externalize their thought process, and when to hold space as a silent witness while the coachee processes on their own. This kind of silence is an integral part of the coaching process, the way that a melody is created by breaks between notes rather than one single sustained tone.

Another kind of pause can emerge when the coach needs to call a halt in order to be more fully present: a coaching colleague of mine shared an anecdote about a time she was being coached and in the middle of her narrative about the topic, her coach said “I need to stop for a moment because I found myself agreeing with you so much that I wouldn’t be a good coach for you!” After a moment her coach was able to regain perspective and proceed with the session in a more objective frame of mind. My colleague described this as a powerful moment that helped her to trust that the coach really was putting her needs first, and knew when to stop and gather his thoughts rather than blagging his way through without the benefit of his full strength as a coach. The coach always needs to be mindful of what’s going on internally for them, as well as what’s going on with the coachee, in order to create the most productive environment for the coachee’s success. One of the core responsibilities of a coach is knowing when they need to take a moment for some internal processing in order to get back in the room and be fully present for the coachee’s needs.

This ability to pause, to reflect, and to give oneself a moment to prepare for or reset a conversation is something we can all use. Difficult conversation with the boss? Distracted during a meeting? Feeling put on the spot by a question? Having the ability to push the ‘pause’ button and take a moment to prepare oneself to answer is a powerful tool that can help supercharge our conversations. Make the most of your relationships by knowing when what you really need is a moment to yourself.

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