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Generative Silence

By June 4, 2013August 5th, 2022Uncategorized

Two weeks ago I was able to participate in an event at REI in Seattle called The Coaching Fishbowl. This event was focused on bringing together a few coaches from the area to demonstrate coaching for a crowd of around a hundred other coaches, executives, HR leaders & others interested in coaching. I was privileged to be one of the people coaching live for a panel of expert coaches & the audience. At this event, I learned a term that is invaluable to leaders – Generative Silence. Since I was one of the coaches demonstrating live, I got to benefit from the feedback.

During the feedback portion, Janet Harvey (a parter at inviteCHANGE), used a term I had never heard before – Generative Silence. She was commenting on the amount of silence used in the session and how so often we get caught up in getting stuff done that we don’t leave room for people to process internally. “Let the client do some work,” she said.

This got me to thinking about how much talking people do in meetings and how little silence there actually is. While some people process their thoughts externally, there are a good number of folks who process internally. Are you making room for that to happen?

While introverts need a good 10 seconds to process questions, extroverts only need 1-2 seconds. Whether you are dealing with introverts or extroverts, many times, generative silence is needed more than extra talking.

“Generative” simply means “Able to Produce.” So combine that word with “Silence” and you get “Silence that is able to produce.”

I was working with a talented leader once who oversees a global team. We were talking about his wanting his team to not need him to tell them what to do. I asked him, “Does a healthy team need to be told what to do?” His eyes got big and we had a few seconds of generative silence. After a pause, he said “wow, it’s the internal struggle that helps people know what to do isn’t it?” I didn’t tell him anything. All I did was make space for him to figure it out. Now, that leader doesn’t immediately tell his people what to do, he lets them struggle with it for a while.

There will be times when you’ll need to help guide generative silence, but usually people just need the space to figure it out for themselves. While telling people can be useful sometimes, other times, not telling people can be just as useful.

Give room for people to struggle. Generative Silence is able to help people produce their own decisions and take responsibility for their actions.

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