Today’s post is by soon-to-be certified ITK Facilitator Casey Creech

I learned an important lesson about facilitation in 9th grade English class.

I wanted help spelling a word. I don’t remember the word. I do remember my teacher handing me the dictionary. She said, “Where can you find it in here?”

As I took the dictionary back to my desk, I remember feeling stunned. The more I sat with it on my desk, the more I became frustrated. I wanted a quick answer.

  • She knew I was in a rush.
  • I didn’t’ have time to look up the answer.
  • I need it now before class ended.
  • She was the expert.
  • Why didn’t she tell me the answer?

It took me over 30 years to realize the value in her lesson. It was the move of a grand master. A guru of teachers. If she had told me the answer, she would have stolen the knowledge from me. The knowledge of finding the answer myself.

I realize a truth now. When we rush to help others, we often become a thief. A thief stealing lessons of learning.

When we ask questions, we create silence. The more open ended our questions, the greater the silence. The greater the tension. Tension is where learning occurs. Tension is where breakthroughs happen.

Practicing silence is challenging. You must resist primal urges. When you ask a question and there is not response, often it feels like this:

  • After 3 seconds, you become tempted to clarify. To remove the silence.
  • At 5 seconds, your internal voice may start asking, “Did anyone hear me?”
  • At 10 seconds, it can feel like you are failing. Every second after this seems like an eternity.

Yet in these moments of silence, the group is experiencing similar tension. They are learning how to best answer the question themselves. You are giving time to discovering an answer. It is a gift mixed with a little alchemy.

I often count after I ask a question. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three… I’ve never gotten to 20 seconds. Someone has always spoken. This moment relieves the tension. Someone else filling the void opens the group to discussion.

The trick is not to let it be you. Let silence create the tension needed for the group to move forward.

How can you give the gift of silence to the next group you work with?