How much space to give clients in coaching sessions
When coaches observe me in my work, perhaps at a coaching practice forum, in a coaching demonstration or a webinar, the feedback is often to do with how slow the pace is and how much space and time I allow my clients to think. There are often long silences in my sessions.
Here’s a recent example. An attendee on a webinar asked me a question. It was not an academic topic, nor was there a linear response. You wouldn’t find the answer in a book and the potential answers were almost limitless.
“Before I give you my thoughts” I said “please tell me what you think.” The topic was coaching presence and there were another twenty faces on my laptop screen, all experienced coaches, who all had their own answer. The clock in my lounge ticked loud, and slow and steady. I could still taste the coffee, warm and smooth in my mouth. I could almost reach out and touch the vibes that came from the other attendees. I could feel their desire to move on and the itch to provide their answer, but they followed my lead. I knew the person would come up with something, given time. I could see she was deep in thought, her eyes twitched as they searched the corners of their mind. A red light blinked in the corner of the screen. The wind blew in the trees outside. The sun was warm on my back. I knew people suspected that she didn’t know the answer. My feet were firm on the floor, my back settled comfortable in the chair, my breath was easy as I waited. “Well…” she said and then gave an answer that I knew was perfect for her.
I asked her what had happened during the silence. She told me that at first, she was surprised by the question and nothing sprang to mind, but there was something about the way that I asked that made her think about it and when she found an answer, she was almost surprised.
In the follow up conversation with the other coaches, some of them reported that they had got impatient and would not have waited as long as I did for an answer, they would have either asked another question, or provided an answer. They were intrigued as to why I waited so long.
Why allow so much silence in coaching?
There are a few things that I know that help me with this:
When I am focused on my client, I can tell the difference between when they search within themselves for an answer and when they flounder. If it’s the latter, then I will step in for sure. I don’t let people drown!
I know that people are not often asked what they think by someone who is genuine in their interest to hear the answer, nor would the answer to this type of question be found in the intellect, so the initial reflex response can be to say ‘I don’t know’. When encouraged to reconsider, it is very rare that they cannot find an answer within themselves. This also ensures that, if I were to respond to the question, my answer has the potential to add more depth or a shift in perspective, to build on what they know already.
It’s not the answer they give but where they find it that’s important
I know that given time and attention, people have all the answers they need within themselves, however many have forgotten where to look, so they need a little time to remember. The answer they give is not significant. Where they find it, that’s what’s important. This is what I want people to see, so that next time they have a difficult question, they know where to look for the answer. This will stand them in much better stead, than if I provide them with a stock answer, which they probably already knew anyway.
The confidence and ability to do this comes from presence. Join me for a Deep Dive into Coaching Presence in September.