In coaching, silence is a useful tool and essential skill, however resisting the urge to jump in can take some practice. We may fear silence and assume we need to fill it with ideas, answers or more questions! We can mistakenly think our clients didn’t understand us, and ask them again, in a slightly different way. This can confuse clients as well as interrupt their thoughts, and potentially prevent valuable ‘aha’ moments that result from a great, thought provoking question paired with a silence.
Coaching is not about fixing or rescuing clients, but rather about facilitating their growth and learning. Clients should be doing most of the talking and problem solving, not the health professional and/or coach. The importance of clients doing more talking stems from the belief that they possess the answers within themselves. Coaches guide the conversation, but the client's active participation fosters a deeper understanding of their challenges and potential solutions.
When coaches can stay present and curious, they can assume the role of facilitator, allowing clients the thinking and emotional space to do the work. “Holding the space” is where the magic happens. It is when we allow clients time to process their thoughts and emotions, clients begin to understand themselves, and their behaviours, and what it takes to create sustainable change.
Holding the space involves being fully present without judgement, allowing clients to express themselves openly. Silence serves as a powerful tool, giving clients the opportunity to delve into their thoughts and uncover insights. By encouraging clients to lead discussions, coaches promote self-awareness and responsibility in the coaching process.
If you do feel you want to jump in and provide solutions or advice, perhaps reflect on what need or belief is driving that. Are you feeling uncomfortable with the silence and want to move the client closer to change more quickly?
Do you find you tell the client how you see things, interpreting their behaviours, and the barriers and explain what is going on for them? Perhaps you add something you believe will be empowering or inspiring, for example a speech about filling your own cup or the importance of practicing self kindness? Provision of information or opinion which may have the intention of being helpful can in fact create discord, as the coach grabs the talking stick and talks at the client, taking the focus away from the client. This is very different than a reflection or a summary which is succinct and keeps the client front and foremost in the consultation, feeling heard and understood.
Holding the space is also important when clients are dealing with an emotion. They may have had an insight, are feeling they failed, or are upset or emotional. This can make us feel uncomfortable and take action to make the client ‘feel better’ by reassuring them, telling them that we feel the same way, or attempting to reframe to focus on the positive instead. This is often unhelpful, takes the focus off the client and onto us, or forces them forward when they are not ready. Instead we stay with the client, allowing silence, reflecting emotion, thought, and support them to move forward when they express they are ready.
To hold the space is to stay present, curious, and emotionally available. Coaches cultivate mindfulness, maintaining focus on the client's experience. Active listening, empathetic responses, and asking open-ended questions contribute to a supportive coaching dynamic. This approach nurtures a client-centred exploration, ultimately enhancing the coaching relationship and outcomes.