Sitting with Silence

One of the most powerful things we can do as a listener is to become comfortable with silences. In casual conversations silence can feel like a vacuum that needs to be filled with talk, but in a coaching conversation this vacuum is a powerful way of eliciting deeper truths and getting under the surface of what’s really going on.

As a coach, a silence or pause after I’ve asked a question is often a good sign that it’s a powerful question, one the coachee really needs to think about. These are often the broader, deeper fundamental questions of what really motivates a person, beyond the surface challenges they’re facing. When I see a coachee sitting in silence, I want to mirror this, to give their thoughts the expansive space they need to take shape.

Silence gives us the opportunity to look for communication beyond verbal language, to be present and listening to a coachee’s stance, gaze, movements. We are always subconsciously aware of these aspects of communication, but silence allows us to place emphasis on them and bring them into the foreground, giving a new perspective on a conversation.

Silence can also be a subtle tool for challenging an assumption: often in a casual conversation, someone will make an observation or state an assumption and expect an affirmative answer, an agreement, collusion with their worldview. As a coach, I can challenge this view directly: “Is that always true?” or “What other explanation might there be?” Or I can simply sit in silence and wait for the coachee to continue: silence is a space where anything might happen; it disrupts the established norms of a conversation to allow new truths into the room.

How might you use silence to have a deeper, more purposeful conversation with someone? When could you choose silence instead of language to encourage a more meaningful connection?

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