When to Speak and When to Be Quiet


I’m in the middle of a new activity for me: visiting colleges with Daughter#1. (She’s a senior in high school, trying to decide where she wants to attend school next year.) When I was thinking about college (university to those of you across the pond), my father told me I could go up to 300 miles away from home. I looked at a map, found the schools farthest away, sent away for catalogs, and chose which ones to apply to. It never occurred to me to visit a school. I could learn everything I needed to learn from a college catalog. (Yes, those were the days before the Web 🙂

But Daughter#1 is different from me. She needs to absorb the feel of the campus before she’s willing to make a decision. And, while I’m her mentor and sometime college coach, I need to choose when to speak and when not to–so that she makes her own decisions.

This when-to-speak problem is the same problem managers (and peers) encounter when coaching at work. When coaching, it’s much better to allow the coachee to think and discuss their possibilities, rather than imposing the coach’s perspective and options on the coachee. Inflicting help–telling people what to do–is not coaching. It’s much more of a parent-child relationship rather than a working peer-to-peer relationship.

Even here, where I am the parent, Daughter#1 still needs to make her own decisions. She needs to select the criteria by which she can evaluate her options. I can help by suggesting she do so, and by asking if such-and-such or so-and-so are part of her criteria. But I can’t make the decisions for her (and I don’t want to), and providing her my opinions all the time is inflicting help.

So I’ve been working on asking open-ended questions and asking about her criteria, and nodding a lot. It’s a little difficult, because I have strong opinions 🙂 But it’s not impossible.

If you’re coaching someone, make sure you think about when to speak and when to be quiet. It may not be your preference, but make a conscious decision for the good of the coaching relationship and for the coachee. It’s worth it in the end.

One Reply to “When to Speak and When to Be Quiet”

  1. I’m facinated by the current trend to visit colleges. I never did it either, nor did any of my peers so far as I knew. Now every kid seems to do it. I wonder what caused the change.
    Thanks for the reminder to not inject my ideas. I’m tempted to use the huristic of ‘if I know a better way, I should tell them;’ but I believe a better huristic is ‘unless their way will damage them badly, let them do it.’ Allowing failure is a powerful teaching tool. I challenge my managers with “have you let your people fail recently?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.