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The power of silence

Coach Richard Harkness by Richard Harkness
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"Silence is golden". Yet how often do we ever get to experience it, especially when in conversation?

One of the simplest yet powerful things I love when coaching people is giving people the space to talk freely and without interruption. For many people it's the first time they experience it.

Clients often at first get self conscious and embarrassed about talking for long periods.

"Sorry am I going on too long?"

"I'm rambling on here, sorry was there something you wanted to say?"

These are sentences that come up often in the early stages of coaching a client. It is often an alien experience for people. What pours out of people when they aren't interrupted and feel safe is often amazingly revealing.

I am sharing a powerful yet simple exercise with you today so you can get a taste of this for yourself!

You may have come across this before framed in the context of a listening exercise. There is no doubt it is, however it’s also a great opportunity to experience the power of silence too. It was created by the amazing Nancy Kline and features in her book Time to Think (
I highly recommended to all! ).

It's so simple anyone can do it if they can follow the rules. You could test it out with a partner, a friend, a colleague or family member. Having someone you have some degree of trust with is a good idea because you want to feel the contents of anything that comes up is safe between you.

I would suggest around 15 minutes per person but if you’ve more time feel free to make it longer.

Before you start there are 3 simple rules.

1) The listener must remain engaged at all times.

2) You must listen to what’s being said and make it clear with good eye contact and body language they have your full attention.

3) No matter what, no matter how clever your thought do NOT interrupt the thinking partner at any time!

To begin as the listener ask this question:

“What would you like to think about today and what are your thoughts?”

Now listen in the way described above until either the agreed time is up OR the person agrees and verbally indicates they are done thinking. If you are the thinker make it very clear to the listener by saying something like “OK I’m done thinking”.

When they are done, if time isn’t up ask them:

“What more do you want to think or feel or say?”

If they speak again the thinker must once more indicate when they are done. ( If time allows you can keep repeating this last step until the thinker is completely done ).

Then reverse roles if you wish.

Not only is it an interesting experience to be listened to for so long without interruption in itself, but so is observing what happens when the thinker will at first appear to run out of thoughts.

It’s in these silences that powerful thoughts emerge.

I encourage you to give it a go or try it again if you haven’t done it in a long time and see what you notice and discover!

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