Create or allow space for silence, pause or reflection

In this global pandemic environment of sheltering in place, having “Space” for one self is an ideal, and not a reality for many. That includes physical space, emotional space, alone time space, and space to think and feel.

Yet “space” is a state of mind that can transcend almost every situation, and support us through any circumstance in life.

Many people have lower levels of tolerance because there are more people in their “Space.” This could be home schooling children, having more family members home living together, or multi-generational home environments because adult children are caring for their elderly parents, keeping them safe in their homes.

In the Updated ICF Core Competency Model, “space” is something named in:

Core Competency #5, “Maintains Presence.” Sub-point 6 says;

“Creates or allows space for silence, pause or reflection.”

I used this sub-point for the heading of this article. It’s also one of the Ten Characteristics of MCC Skill Level I write about: the quality of “Spaciousness” within, and allowed by the coach.


Why is allowing space for the client important?

As coaches, we want to allow “space for silence” so our client can really hear their thoughts, and feel whatever is there within them, without the coach’s voice (and energy) encroaching into the client space.

Our client has so much wisdom within them, if only we give them some space to access it. For me, my number one focus as a coach is to ask questions and offer observations which allow the client to access more of their self-knowledge and bring that to their surface awareness. Or as some call it, make “object” that which is “subject.”

If the coach is encroaching into the client space, it’s really hard for the client to hear their own wisdom. Or to hear other “parts” of them that may want to “speak” to them. That includes “that voice” in our head. Some only think of that voice as an Inner Critic, yet it’s so much more than that; some of the “cast of characters” include (but are not limited to) the Inner Dreamer, the Inner Processor, the Inner Doubter, the Inner Theory Tester, the Inner Emotional One, and so on.

Without “space for silence” there is no “space for reflection” available for the client. A “pause” can be seconds or it can be minutes.


Silence is wasted time!

I can already hear some of you saying that your client wants results, they want tips, tools, and your input. Silence is wasted time! My imagination says that your client feels uncomfortable when you allow too much space, and the coach doesn’t want to feel their client, or their own, discomfort either.

My response is it’s a missing piece of context setting by the coach; to inform the client that the first thing you’re going to do as their coach is to ask them questions to draw out what they may already know, but not be aware they know.

I remember one senior leader I was coaching said the greatest value of our coaching was hearing herself think, and realizing how much they already knew. And then wondered how they could make this space for themselves regularly. Yet it’s challenging to do alone. It’s a gift we can give our clients; to allow the client to take ownership of the coaching “space.”


A coaching mindset of spaciousness

One quick distinction between a coaching mindset and other mindsets such as consulting, teaching or mentoring, is the coach speaks for less time than the client. If the coach is speaking more than the client, there’s a shift in the “power” dynamic; coach is in charge of “the space.”

The client becomes secondary to the “voice” of the coach, meaning what the coach thinks, believes, and mostly wants to impart, is more important than allowing space for silence, so the client can hear themselves “think.”

We all “speak” non-stop. Whether it’s in our head commentating about ourself, others, or just life circumstances, there’s a constant voice that is speaking. If you’re thinking, “What is she talking about? I don’t have a voice that speaks to me in my head!” Well that’s the voice I’m talking about.

I’m going to go full-on spiritual for a moment here. When I first encountered meditation in a spiritual context in 1989, this phrase “blew my mind” open when I heard a version of, “Who is the one aware you are speaking in your head?” To this day, I find that a fascinating inquiry. Who is that speaking back to me in my head?  (If you’re mind is a little confused right now…. you’re welcome 😊)


Challenges of Allowing Space

Dare I say that most coaches, and most people, are uncomfortable with silence. (yes, I dared to say that 😊 )

Clients really have to “do the work” when you stay out of their space. And many can feel uncomfortable with doing that (coach and client). There’s a belief that the more words spoken, the more that’s getting done, resolved or solved. Not necessarily; it may untapped wisdom hasn’t been accessed, which may have been the quickest path to the best solution.

Most people are afraid to really be with themselves and hear their own thoughts, and feel their feelings. It takes courage to face yourself, to hear yourself, to listen to those inner voices we all have. This is normal human behavior and doesn’t require a therapist to work through (although that can be a most valuable experience for almost every human in my view).


The relationship between Space and Presence

Allowing space, silence and time to reflect are core elements of a Coach’s Presence. When the coach asks their client a question that requires deeper reflection, silence allows their client to hear what their inner voices are saying. Let the client “work.”

However, what often happens is while their client is having an “inside” experience, the coach is having an “outside” experience. The coach is on the outside observing, while their client is having a real-time processing, sorting, finding and integrating experience. The coach speaks sooner than the client is able to complete their own processing; coach has another question, another thought, another intuition, and just shares what they want, when they want. The client can become confused about their own wisdom versus the knowledge being imparted by the “coach.” Sadly, the client may not trust their own wisdom, and favor what is said by the “expert coach.”


Slow down to Speed Up

I don’t know when I first heard this phrase, “Slow down to speed up.” But it made a lasting impression on me and changed my entire way of being in my work and life and my Presence.

I’m a student of Presence, and recently completed a wonderful Coaches Rising program called, “Become A Transformative Presence.” Nicholas Janni, who works with leaders across the globe, taught four sessions on his own and I was blown away by his Presence. He is very spacious, and a deep listener. I don’t know the extent of his coaching skills aligning with all the ICF Core Competencies, but Nicholas is definitely spacious, which is the focus of this article.

Then Nicholas co-led two sessions with Scilla Elworthy who is a mediator, and reveals she’s not a trained coach. She embodied amazing Presence and again great ability to be spacious and silent. By far, these two people stood out to me as people you could trust to really listen to you. And who doesn’t want to be really heard? (Hint: everyone wants to be truly heard…and seen…).

We are fortunate to receive transcripts of each session. In the four sessions Nicholas led solo, he mentioned “space” 57 times, although some of those times were spoken by a participant; it was in response to the focus Nicholas had on “space” as a core competency of Presence.

Here are some quotes of what Nicholas said in those 4 sessions, relating to Presence and Space:

“We have to slow down and we have to help our clients slow down. Why? Because thinking, feeling, and sensing go at different speeds. Thinking is, by far, the fastest. That’s why, when you ask someone how they are feeling right now, you get their thinking. Almost all the time, you get their thinking because that’s the speed our culture is going at most of the time.”

“We, as coaches, have to be in a much slower rhythm, which doesn’t mean  we can’t engage with the fast rhythm, but we’re rooted in a much slower rhythm of being and then we have to help our clients slow down. Otherwise, they will never be able to contact what is actually happening in them, beyond their thinking. So, let’s keep deepening that together.”

“When we’re working as real presence, we’re rooted and anchored in being, and then our doing is whatever it needs to be – quick, slow, attuned to whatever is happening, but we’re residing in being.”

Nicholas also stated (and I can’t locate it in a transcript) that he sees the number one leadership competency to be developed is Space; to have space for oneself to think and feel, and to allow those they lead to have that same space to think and feel.


In Closing….

The Pandemic is testing us all on many levels. In one way, there is a forced slowdown, at least in where we physically go. Having less outer distractions can be a gift or a curse, depending on your relationship with space.

You may have encountered the acronym, W.A.I.T. which stands for, “Why Am I Talking?”

Or some call it, W.A.I.S.T which means “Why Am I Still Talking?”

  • How comfortable are you with silence?
  • How do you create the space for yourself to think, and feel?
  • How can you allow that same space for others to think and feel?
  • How good are you at listening to your inner wisdom voices?

These are further invitations for you to explore, if you choose to.

  • How can you trust your client to do more of the work, and stay out of their “working space?”
  • What beliefs might you examine in order to become more spacious in yourself, and be a model of Spacious Presence?


Do you have time right now to focus on your own coaching skills upgrades?

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