W. A. I. T.

Oct 10, 2021

How to say less when coaching (W.A.I.T.: Why Am I Talking?)

When you’re coaching as a leader in your company, it’s important to choose to respond by thinking about your thinking and helping others do the same. The opposite of Responding is mindless and thoughtless Reaction. The healthier choice is to Respond.

I was first introduced to the concept that individuals can and should choose their response when I read the book Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl. In this powerful yet painful book, Frankl lets us into his world and his thinking, as he discovered what kept him alive during his time as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. Frankl taught a formula that helps explain his claim: E + R = O (Event plus Response equals Outcome)

Events will happen, and in life, we rarely have control over events that happen to us or around us. What we do have control over is our response. You can’t control that an employee is not accountable, but you CAN control your response to it. When your response is focused on the long term and fueled by possibility-based thinking, you will have the best chance for a positive outcome. 

It would be a wonderful, utopian world if all of us were allotted ample time to intentionally choose our response to any event, but that is rare! Plan ahead and have some of these possibility-thinking based and long-term focused Respond approaches ready to go:

  • Curiosity (not avoidance): When we take a curious approach in our response, we withhold judgement. This allows us to really listen and seek to understand the person we are coaching.
  • Compassion (not anger): Choosing to respond with compassion involves simply being with a person in their thoughts. The goal of the compassion response is to help this person feel heard and acknowledge that the feelings they are experiencing are normal.
  • Thinking about the greater good (not disappointment): When we take the “for the greater good” approach, we think of a bigger picture, we think long term. We rise above the situation to focus on what's really important. We think about the outcome that we’d like to see, rather than just the immediate issue in front of us. 
  • Optimism (not fear): Choosing to respond with optimism involves going into situations knowing for certain that there is a solution. We take a “How can we . . .?” position with issues because we know there are many paths to getting to the solution or goal.
  • Gratitude (not guilt): Choosing this response requires showing appreciation for the person, the issue, or the situation itself. Responding with gratitude involves acknowledging people for the work they’ve already done or the thinking they are doing. It can also be useful when someone brings a big issue to light that otherwise would be hidden. When you choose to be appreciative, people are more likely to speak freely and get to the real issue more quickly.
  • Take responsibility (don’t blame & shame): Taking responsibility for your own actions or the actions of the company or event shows humility. When you own the responsibility for the outcome, you show strength and leadership. When apologies are used with this approach, the human connection is strengthened.


When we intentionally choose to respond in one of these ways, we start using one of the most effective teaching tools of our species: the power of leading by example. As a leader, it is not just your job to deliver a message; you are the message. How you respond affects how your employees will respond. 

Sometimes, your employees will come to you with issues and concerns, and, of course, sometimes you’ll need to go to them. Either way, when you’re having a conversation with your people, your new goal, your main priority is to engage them in thinking. Ask them questions, you can invite them to think WITH you, you should celebrate their ideas, but turn all of these discussions into opportunities to engage in deeper thinking.

One of my favorite ways to do this is to engage in ACTIVE SILENCE.


When you’re trying to get your people to think about their thinking and choose their response, plenty of silence on your part is often a welcome gift. We live in a busy world with so much noise. Providing the space for them to think in silence is an oasis for the brain; positive effects can be observed in as little as two minutes. You can use this in a casual way by reminding yourself to talk less; they should be doing most of the talking. An acronym that I keep close by on a sticky note as I coach is W.A.I.T. It stands for “Why Am I Talking?” If you need to take a more organized approach to silence, try this: say, “How about you and I both take two quiet minutes to think about (insert topic or question here) and write down our thoughts, then we’ll share?” The third option is to just ask the question and shut up. Humans are uncomfortable with silence. Be comfortable with silence and the real issue will often quickly be vocalized.


Even if you were as inanimate as a lamppost, it would be beneficial for them to have this experience. Don’t worry too much about asking the right questions or being perfect with this. You are not the one that is important in this conversation. This is about them. Your only job is to be present with them as they think and talk.

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