17. Maintains Presence: Ambiguity & Silence

In this article, we take a closer look at competency 5: Maintains Presence. ICF defines this competency as “Is fully conscious and present with the client, employing a style that is open, flexible, grounded and confident.” The last two markers that show the coach is competent in maintaining coaching presence are:

  1. Is comfortable working in the space of not knowing 
  2. Creates or allows space for silence, pause, or reflection. 

The interesting thing about coaching is that as a coach, you don’t need to know everything the client knows. We don’t need all the details, we don’t need all of our curiosities answered, we don’t need to fully understand the client’s domain and context, and we don’t need to know every aspect of the client’s challenge in order to help them move forward. If we are holding the client as creative, resourceful, and whole then we can trust that the client understands the details, so we don’t have to. We bring the framework and process that assists the client in doing the work of resolving their own challenges, questions, concerns, desires, and actions. Since we are not doing the work, we don’t need full context. We do, however, need to listen deeply to what the client is saying and work with what they present to help them become more aware. Part of the ability to help the client build awareness is giving them the space to do so. Silence in coaching is one of the three critical skills: listening, silence, questioning. Silence isn’t about just not talking. It’s about knowhen when to talk and when to remain silent for the client’s benefit. One way to tell that it is time to remain silent and create a moment for the time to process and learn is when the client’s eyes are looking upward, sideways, or downward. This means that they are thinking, remembering, or processing and need the space to do so. When they are ready, they will look back at you. Another way to tell your client needs silence is when you ask a question and they don’t answer. This is not the time to re-ask the question, give an explanation, or ask a different question. When the client doesn’t answer, we have to trust that they are creative, resourceful, and whole and are capable of telling us what they need. If they don’t understand the question or it doesn’t resonate, they will tell you. Otherwise, wait in silence for what happens next. When the client is talking, then they stop and look away, they are not finished. Don’t speak. Let them process. When they are ready they will either start talking again or they will look at you. Don’t be in a hurry. It is more powerful to the client that you don’t ask questions. A last place where the coach needs to leave space for the client is in between their responses and your questions. Don’t jump right on top of the client’s answer to ask the next question. This usually indicates that the coach was not listening. If you have a question to pile right on top of the clients last word, you were thinking  and not listening. Instead, listen fully to what the client says. When they are finished, take a moment and perhaps a breath, think about the right question to ask, and then ask it. Don’t be afraid to allow space and silence. You and the client both need processing time to be most effective.

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