Lyn T. Christian PMP, CFCC
I have the great honor of training a variety of people on how to use coaching as a management skill. Many of these managers are impressed when I introduce the tool of silence. In coaching we utilize silence to accomplish two objectives with our employees, direct reports, or team members. These objectives are to:
See the team member as capable and allow them to see this as well.
Offer a space for self-discovery/learning, and consequently
provide an opportunity to take action.
Silence in theory seems fairly easy to utilize. We basically keep quiet right? Well, right, with a few critical guidelines. Silence isn’t abandonment. Silence is acute presence. When we use silence we must remember to use eye contact and attend intently on the other person. We must nod and acknowledge that we are listening with an intermittent “ummm” or “ahhh.” Then, we must stay silent and we listen, and listen, and nod, and listen, and attend, and keep from saying a word, and listen, and nod, and…..What happens on the other side of the silence is often an exercise of problem solving, innovating, thinking, tinkering, and huge ahas!
The single caveat I must share is this, SILENCE IS UNCOMFORTABLE. Silence is uncomfortable for you as the manager. Silence is uncomfortable for the direct report. In order to use silence, we must first exercise incredible amounts of discipline. We must learn to remain present and yet quiet. We have to become comfortable with the uncomfortable. As they struggle within the uncomfortable we need to remain silent yet give assurance that we are listening and sincerely interested in what they have to offer. It is wise to help the employee to feel heard and cared for while your silence settles in. This is not an easy task, and not something for the feint of heart. It is a power tool for those who use it well.
Silence may be scripted out like this:
Team Member – “I’m discouraged. I can’t seem to find enough time to work on the Clarke account.”
Manager – “Really? What’s happening?”
Team Member – “Well, I have two other projects. I have the Kiyosaki account and the Turner account. The last time we met one-on-one we decided that I should spend 30% of my time on each account allowing me 10% of slack time.”
Manager – Nodding in agreement, “Right.”
Team Member – “I thought this was a good plan. However I feel like I’m juggling two accounts well, dropping the ball on Clarke and have absolutely no slack time for e-mails, voice-mail, and the rest of the daily routine.”
Manager – Looking directly at the Team Member.
Manager – Maintain eye contact. Offer a smile or gesture so they know you are listening. Bite your lip if you have to and remain silent!
Team Member – “Uh, I really thought I would be able to juggle three accounts, but this is really hard.”
Manager – Nodding.
Team Member – “I guess I can’t give three projects equal attention. I’m thinking that I might need to cut back on Clarke or maybe reallocate my time……I um, I um, I realize that I work best with two main projects and one smaller, minor project.
Manager – “huummm.”
Team Member – Looking at the manager still expecting advice or direction. “I um, I wonder if we could look at my workload by scheduling another one-on-one? I think I’ll have stronger results if I can trade Clarke for a minor project or even cut back on the scope of Clarke until I can clear my plate of some of the other project requirements.
Manager – Nodding.
Team Member – “Do you want me to schedule the one-on-one or…..I’ll just go schedule it right now. Thanks.”
Manager – “I’ll be looking forward to it. Looks like you’ve come up with some valuable insights. (Notice that this is the most talking the manager has done for the past several minutes.)
For more information about using silence and/or a chance to plug in and try it out on yourself, call or e-mail me for a free “silence” coaching session.
Lyn is the former Associate Director of Franklin Covey’s PMIC (Project Management Innovation Center) and the current Innovation Manager for Franklin Covey Coaching LLC.
The PM Process Herald, Sept. 2002. Volume 6 Issue