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The Sacredness of the Spacious Pause

One of the most underrated skills in facilitating a coaching session is the pause; the silent space between asking a question and allowing the client to answer or giving extra time after an answer for deeper reflection. The skill that takes the longest to hone is the pause.

New coaches feel pressured to “say something” and fill the quiet or avoid silence in order to “be a good facilitator.” Yet the reality is, the insights and processing all happen in the spacious pause. Experienced facilitators know how to wait…and then wait some more. In the words of the author and researcher Brene Brown, "I'm trained as a therapist, so I can out-wait you uncomfortably."

We’re all processing millions of bits of information every second. If the coach stacks one question after another – without waiting for them to fully process and thoughtfully respond – the client misses the opportunity to explore the first question in their minds. It becomes disjointed thought-hopping and detracts from the experience and ability to land anywhere.

That’s not to say a coach never asks questions. Insightfully curious questions can both encourage the client’s self-discovery as well as elicit client-generated solutions and strategies. It’s just all about the timing.

If the question requires the client to create new neural pathways in the brain (which is very much the point of asking open-ended questions), then there will inherently be time and space that is required to do so.

This spacious-pause skill can also be helpful in our personal relationships when we can give space in conversation without filling in the silence with words. It allows us to truly hear, understand, and reflect on what the other person has said before finding the right words in response…or gives the other person space to deepen and expand on what they’ve shared after they’ve contemplated and reflected internally a bit.

We can practice listening to understand, rather than listening to respond. Listening with our hearts and bodies can deepen our relationships with others.

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