Listen, Don’t Tell

Brene Brown may rightly be called the chick lit of life coaching. If you are a coach and have not read Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, or at the very least, watched her TED Talk, hopefully this blog post will change that.

Disruptive Engagement

Brene is a vulnerability and shame researcher who breaks down social science research in ways we can all understand. In Daring Greatly, she writes about Disruptive Engagement. In a world where shame and blame are the norm, how can we engage with each other differently?

Our world is filled with should, ought, and must. Engaging differently, then, often looks like giving space. It’s a process of stepping back and not feeling obligated to tell someone exactly how it should be done. It’s seeing people’s deepest needs and vulnerabilities, but not feeling the need to “fix” it. It’s becoming comfortable with not knowing and with exploring. It’s allowing people to arrive at their own conclusions, at their own time, and in their own ways.

As a normal human, this method of engagement feels distinctly uncomfortable. What if their conclusions aren’t the same as mine? That would mean one of us is wrong. What if their timing doesn’t align with mine? That means I’ve been inconvenienced. What if their way is different? That makes me uncomfortable, frustrated, or upset.

As a coach, however, we understand that holding a space allows people to walk into understanding, growth, and learning at their own pace. Most people aren’t used to someone showing up simply for the purpose of believing in them. Coaching creates a space for clients to become more of themselves and to build upon their being in a way that facilitates growth, learning, and productivity.

The Drawback of Telling

Have you ever started sharing a story, only to be instantly interrupted by someone who knows exactly how you should have handled that situation–even before they’ve heard the whole story?

That uncomfortable feeling is how most of us react when we are told what to do. In fact, one of the most powerful currents in our brain is the resistance we have to concepts that don’t fit our belief system. “Telling” keeps the brain from thinking creatively and shuts down vulnerability. And according to Brene, “When you shut down vulnerability, you shut down opportunity.”

The Power of Insight

However, when we create a space that allows our clients to explore and engage deeply with their own perspectives, thoughts, and feelings, we open up the opportunity for flashes of insight that can result in powerful life change.

Rather than a systematic, logical assessment of the options that can happen through “telling,” coaching sets the stage for surprising flashes of insight. Insight happens at a conscious and subconscious level as the brain grapples with a problem, then hits a roadblock. The roadblock and the break that usually follows is actually what allows the brain necessary space to process. The distraction that happens from the linear, logical thinking can set the stage for an insight or “aha!” moment that may not have happened otherwise.

What’s the Point?

Coaching has the power to open up possibilities for a client. When we take a break from telling, sharing, mentoring, and advising, our client’s brain is able to find the space it needs to process information, deal with roadblocks, and ultimately reach those flashes of insight that make coaching so powerful.

How are you experiencing insight in your life? What ways has creating space opened up new insights for clients?


Robinson, Tracy A., “Linking Insight To Behaviour Change In A Life Coaching Intervention For Women” (2016). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 3988.

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