Part Four - Learning to Shut Up
Welcome back.... It’s been a busy couple of weeks but I’ll explain why in a later story. So, in part three of this story, I told you how I met the team I was about to embark on my Barefoot coaching journey with (www.barefootcoaching.co.uk), it was all new and fresh, with nerves, openness, excitement and energy. These next entries will focus on some of the key early learnings from our journey. What fun!
This lesson on being how I talk too bloody much!
Being on Zoom when learning with others adds a whole new level of awkward when the tutor asks a question, and no one answers. Everyone is on mute, just sitting in numb silence, like your headmaster has just walked in the room naked. Now for some of you, this is easy, very easy. You simply sit, staring, stay on mute and wait for someone (anyone but you) to speak. You could sit there all day if you needed to, you are not uncomfortable at all, this is all quite peaceful to you...... I am not like you.
Not only do I facilitate a great deal of training both face to face and via zoom in my profession, but I also lead with an expressive behavioural style, followed swiftly by full empathy. The combination of my day job and these two behaviour preferences flits me back and forth between
"Oh god the poor tutor, someone speak, just say something", to
"Do they not know what to say, do they need me to go first?", finally to
"Oh god if I speak first, I am 'that' person, always jumping in, treading on someone’s toes".
We all know 'these' people. I'm sure some of you are thinking of that person you know right now (it could be me). But do you also know these people try very hard to let you speak first. Very, very hard. When you do not utter a word to a seemingly simple question, the level of discomfort firstly for the tutor, and then for the rest of the group, starts to build, gradually as the silence deepens, and finally it is all too much and then it simply explodes out of control!
They come off mute and speak with all the gusto of someone with too much to say and not enough time to say it. They 'save' the day, help the room and tutor out, because in all honesty they would rather be 'that' person, than watch the rest of the room seemingly suffering in silence!
I am unapologetically that person. During the first few modules as we all found our 'place' in the group, we would go through this game like professional Vegas poker players, I was the useless novice brunette on the side wearing mirror sunglasses!
(Not me, but you catch my drift - note the camera - whats that about?)
Anyone who knows me, knows I couldn't find my poker face if I was offered £1million to show it for a second. This face of mine says what it sees, always has, probably always will.
In these early days I could tell I wasn't the only one on the course suffering the play out of this traumatic game, but as the weeks went on, and we were encouraged to practice our coaching with each other, sitting in silence became one of our greatest lessons.
Having read the phenomenal Time to Think by Nancy Kline, (https://www.timetothink.com/nancy-kline I knew it worked in coaching in theory, but putting into practice wasn't always that natural.
This was particularly difficult when I was coaching someone with a situation I had experienced (or thought I had). Author, Michael Bungay Stanier (coaching expert) helps to explain this when he says, “I think we are all advice-giving maniacs". He explains how when you've been listening to someone for 25 seconds, even though you don't know them or their true situation you're already full of ideas on how to help them. It comes from a good place he says, a habit even. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kl0rmx7aa0w
In those early coaching sessions my advice monster was just dying to jump in and 'help' even save people, explaining exactly how 'I' would solve the problem if I were them. Of course, I am not them, and this is not coaching. This is giving advice, and usually with such urgency and lack of patience, you don't even listen, you certainly don't listen to learn. You simply listen to respond, and are often so desperate to ‘help' you jump in with both legs, arms and a fully body swing and interrupt.
A good friend from the group, one day said he'd heard that "Interrupting is simply assaulting someone’s thinking". I sat with that for a moment .
That word assaulting did something to me. It's a tough word to hear, brutal even, How bloody rude to interrupt! I knew this of course - but now I felt it. I really felt it.
I needed to shut up for heaven’s sake! I wasn't helping people. I was assaulting their intelligence by presuming I had all their answers and they didn't. I was lifting myself up above them, trying to help but really saying, "I know the answers that you don't". Wow, who did I think I was?!
I reflected on this (painfully) and by chance a few days later I had a meeting with someone at work who phoned for 'a quick chat'. This usually meant ‘some advice’ so thought I'd leave the chatting to him and practice what I'd learnt. As I did, a 10-minute chat turned into a 40-minute coaching session. I asked four questions in that whole time. Even through the outdated communication medium that is the phone I could hear him thinking. Perhaps more so than usual. I had no face to read, I was actively listening out for it, straining for cues that he had ended his cognitive meandering and pondering. His brain was a whirr and I was honestly, truly hearing it work. Patiently waiting and feeling out as his self-awareness naturally happen all by itself. I was completely silent for the majority of the call.
The feedback he gave me after that was life changing. He did not utter a single word reflecting on me giving advice, guidance, or solving his situation. Instead it was all, "She really listened, she challenged me harder than I expect, and got me to think differently, until I knew exactly what I needed to do"......ahhhh...and smile, so it works.
Silence really, REALLY is golden in coaching. It feels like gazing at a gentle sunrise over a calm sea, where you are completely and peacefully alone......
It is also a great deal more liberating for me than needing to have the answers. I realise now, I absolutely do not need to have the answers to anyone’s situation. I am only there to help them unlock their own answers, dance in the moment (more on that later).....and so here I have my second lesson in becoming a real coach, put simply SHUT (the f***) UP (and dance).
Which reminds me of one of my boys favourite songs - enjoy! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbcCG7PkI18