I tend to be a problem solver. Many of us are. We hear someone’s challenge and we want to offer a solution, sometimes baffled by their incapacity to see it on their own. And yet, as we help, often all we do is keep others from recognizing and using their own strengths and abilities.
This is part two of my Coach Leader - Coaching Culture workshop: Being Attuned: creating trust and engaging in active listening.
In my coaching sessions, I am fascinated by how people are able to resolve issues and achieve their goals. While I am listening to them, at times, my mind tends to come up with solutions I would implement if I were struggling with the same dilemmas. Yet, while I continue to listen, I hear them reveal alternative ways to address the problems that are completely different from what I would have chosen. In the meantime, I often think, “Wow… I wish I had thought about doing that when I ran into a similar issue myself!”
Many times, I have been pleasantly surprised by the capacity that people have to come up with solutions. As coaches, we can stimulate ideas by asking thought-provoking questions. But even without that, by giving people space to talk, you will see light bulbs go off and be surprised by their ability to overcome barriers on their own.
When I was training to become a coach, I remember one of our mentors told us not to worry so much about the process. “Think about it this way,” he said, "if you put someone in front of a light post and ask them to talk about their issues for one hour, they’ll gradually come to some kind of resolution about their predicaments.” In your conversations think about being that light. Allow space, hold your thoughts and be curious. You will be amazed by what you hear.
Become comfortable with silence even if they don’t say anything for a while. That means they are doing exactly what you would hope for: self-reflection and going deeper into the issue.
We tend to be uncomfortable with that pause, the silence in between, yet, we can learn to sit with it. Allow it to pass, just wait; what comes after that often leads to a deeper conversation. Hold off from adding even a tiny “uh-huh,” “hmm,” or other brief interjections. It’s understandable you want to let them know you are listening, however, even that can interrupt their train of thoughts. In fact, your interjections might make them feel that you are pretending to listen and want to interrupt them with ideas to nudge them along. Not yet, they are not done. I’ve had people telling me that this would only work face to face, but not on the phone because they can’t see you. Well, just so you know, over 90% of coaching is done on the phone. So, yes, it applies just as well.
Let me tell you a short story about a coaching session from a co-worker. While in the session, she asked her client a question. The client pondered it and then started sharing her thoughts. To remove any disturbance, her coach put herself on mute. When the client stopped talking, the coach asked another question to expand on her thoughts. A few seconds later, the client kept talking. Then another question from the coach followed by more sharing from the client. About ten minutes into it, the coach suddenly realized that she was still on mute. “Wow!” she thought, “this certainly says a lot about allowing space for expression.” What happened was that every time the client stopped talking, she didn’t hear anything from the coach, only a pause and silence, and so she kept talking, probably thinking “my coach wants me to say more.” And on she went, moving closer to overcoming her predicaments with no interruptions. Does that say enough about how important it is to allow space and listen quietly?
In my workshop I approach different points about being attuned in conversations. Here are a few things you can do:
Let it flow: Pay attention to how many times you use interjections like “uh-huh.” Try to listen without using them. See what happens. Does the other person ever wonder if you are listening? Are you feeling uncomfortable for not acknowledging? Being comfortable with silence is more about you getting used to it than the other person. It takes time but keep doing it.
Monitor your thoughts: Are you finding yourself formulating an answer before they are done talking? If so, catch yourself and let go of the thoughts. As you do, realize what else you heard that you could have missed had you interrupted them?
Ignore distractions: I understand we live very busy lives and have so much going on that we often multitask while on the phone, especially at work. How do you think they interpret your distractions? Remember, you are having a conversation with more than just a co-worker, they are human beings with multi-faceted lives.
Take a pause and be present. This requires patience but with practice you will realize how it can help achieve successful coaching conversations.
Be brave. Be attuned. I dare you.
Learn more about the Coach Leader - Coaching Culture Workshop. Click here
Roberto Giannicola - Coach & Facilitator - www.giannicola.com