When we ask new coaches to identify key coaching skills, it is rare that pausing gets a mention. And yet, the power of silence and provide reflection time can make a huge difference.
Pausing is common in our view, along with questions, listening, and structuring sessions one of the four most important coaching skills. Let’s explore how to pause very well within coaching.
What is the purpose of pausing in coaching?
There are a number of reasons that we want to pause – broken down in the table below as reasons for the coach and reasons for the coachee.
|For the coach
|For the coachee
|Allows thinking time before asking the next question
Can help the coaching process all that has been heard
Demonstrates to the coachee that there is no hurry
Is eminently respectful as a gesture towards the coachee
Allows the coach to be fully present and listening when the coachee is talking
|Allows more opportunities to think, hear their own words, and reflect
Is the opportunity to have a deepening thought or idea
Is a huge contrast from how most of the world is living and operating these days
How to pause and for how long?
Some years ago I had sessions with a therapist. He was very good, and he definitely used pauses. The problem, for me at least, was that his pauses always seemed to be exactly the same length. I would speak, then stop, he would pause for 10 seconds, look at me, nod and then ask his next question. The predictability of it got on my wick!
How to pause
This may be a strange question to ask – after all a pause is just simply not speaking. But there are some specific things we can do when we pause:
- our body language can indicate that we are relaxed and unhurried
- breaking eye contact whilst our coachee is thinking and not talking may help them to feel comfortable
- noticing when the right time to speak is, means that we need to be very alert even if we are being silent
When to pause?
There are a couple of times when pausing is extremely useful:
- When the coachee is in mid monologue. If they are talking for a minute or two, and then stop, we then pause. Often, at this stage, the coachee says more, as there may be more to come out. And if there is no more to come out, the coachee often gives us a clue or a sign by saying “okay /right /that’s it “ or a similar microexpression
- After we have asked our question. It is tempting to ask a question, especially a long or challenging one, and then to notice that the coachee doesn’t speak straight away. At that point, it is really powerful if we continue to pause, rather than panicking and ask a different question
- When the coachee is clearly reflecting, thinking, having epiphanies, writing down. Any time when our chatter is going to get in the way of they’re thinking
And how long should we pause for?
There is no rule of thumb apart from “not for too long! “. But what is too long? Generally, anything over 10 or 20 seconds needs some justification. Otherwise, a pause could turn into a Mexican standoff!
There are always exceptions. One brilliant coach I know, Sarah Thornton, had a coaching session when she paused for 90 seconds. After that time, when the coachee had been in a deeply reflective state, they said that they had a new understanding of a major aspect of their life. 90 seconds well spent!
Do we contract with our coachee that there will be pauses?
There is a definite benefit of contracting with the coachee, especially if they are new to coaching. Explaining to them briefly that coaching may involve periods of silence, which are designed for thinking time, may help. I remember one coachee challenging me and saying that she didn’t understand why there was so much silence – and I regretted not having contracted on this.
But there is also a risk of contracting with the coachee about silence. It may be putting too much attention to the fact that there will be pauses and it may make the coachee nervous.
Get comfortable with pausing
Here are a few questions for you to consider, to understand your relationship to pausing.
|What about do you feel with silence in mid-conversation?
|Do you interrupt very much?
|Do you notice it when others interrupt you?
|About yourself when there is silence?
And carry out some practice activities with a partner or a coaching buddy
|Activity 1 – Same question twice
Ask your partner a simple question, with the instruction that they answer it within a split second – no thinking time. Something like “your favourite food/pastime/TV programme”.
Then ask them the same question again, but this time tell them to take a few seconds before they answer.
After you have done this, discuss what you notice is the difference between the answers when hurrying, or when allowing a pause.
|Activity 2 – 1-10 countries/cities/flowers etc
With a buddy or coaching partner, do a couple of rounds of pausing exercises.
Agree the topic you will use, as above. The first person to speak names a country/ flower/ city/ or whatever you have chosen.
The second person waits for at least one second before saying their item.
Then back to the first person who waits for two seconds
This continues until the pause is 10 seconds.
When you have finished, discuss what you noticed.
Keep a diary or journal for a few days, writing down what you notice about your own pausing when you manage to pause during conversations
It may take time , effort and focus to start building up your skills as a coach who pauses. The first stage is to commit, the second stage is to practice, and the third stage is to notice how well you are doing. Put pausing in your coach’s toolkit and see how well you get on.