“Mirror, mirror on the wall, what’s the most powerful question of them all?” I wonder how you would answer that question. Coaching has a strong emphasis on ‘asking powerful questions’. It’s one of the core competencies every coach learns and continually sharpens.

Something important I learned when I began coaching leaders

When I began formally coaching leaders, the following scenario played out a few times. We’d be exploring a topic, I’d ask a question, and the leader would respond with: “I don’t know”… I felt stuck. I thought I had just asked a good question. So, I rephrased my question, tried to explain it, or asked another question.

How ‘wrong’ I was! At one point I waited, instead of asking another question. And suddenly, there was an insight, the beginning of ‘I know’.

What was needed was ‘the most powerful question of them all’: SILENCE!

This impacted my coaching! I learned that “I don’t know” many times means more something like: ‘I got to think about this a bit’, ‘give me some space here’, ‘my wheels are turning’, ‘I’ll be ready to answer soon’, etc. It also meant that my question had a real impact. It was a good question, and I needed to be patient. What the client needed was silence.


Silence helps the leader to reflect, to connect with their gut, their intuition, to discover something that was elusive. S/he clarifies their thoughts or feelings, etc. ‘Out of the blue’, there is an insight, an ‘aha’, a new thought.

And it ‘happened’, because I asked the’most powerful question of all’ ;-): I asked nothing. I waited. I refrained from talking. I created space. I shut up.

I began to notice that when I did not ‘shut up’ and asked another question, my ‘powerful question’ interrupted the client’s most important process. And the discovery that was about to happen, was lost… Ouch!

7 Reasons Why Silence Is Important In Coaching Conversations

    • A way to honor the client, giving time to think and reflect.
    • Creates a sacred space where heart, mind, soul, body and spirit connect.
    • Allows what is solid and true about yourself to emerge.
    • It is a precious gift. We live in a noisy world. Give the gift of silence. Because what is is really happening, is not always obvious on the surface.
    • Because in-depth listening and discovery take place. Like the amazing wonders that lie below the surface of the ocean.
    • Gives us a deeper connection with ourselves, with what truly matters, with what we deeply desire.
    • Creates awareness (another coaching competency ;-)).


And then, after sufficient silence, you will hear what they now ‘know’. Or, you can invite them with a simple: ‘What are you noticing?’ or, ‘What’s coming to you?’ or, ‘What are you experiencing?’. Give them the space to share. Lots of it. Don’t rush. Don’t ask. May be wait some more and give silence space to work it’s ‘magic’…

I invite you to experiment with it, not just in a coaching conversation.

I don’t think there is THE RIGHT or THE MOST POWERFUL question. There is not THE MAGICAL question that unlocks everything! And yet, there are questions that are more powerful than others (that will come in another post). 

Okay, ‘nuf said. I better shut up here so you can enjoy your silence!


Reflection & Action:

What’s your comfort level with silence? What needs to happen so you become more comfortable with silence?

What might happen if you counted to 5 (or 10, or 14 ;-), before saying something else or asking another question?

What place do you give silence in your life (not just in coaching conversations)?

What might happen or surface if you created more space for silence?