Hi, I hope this finds you well. I have had a terrific few days, with the participants at the CAPSS/UCONN Women in District Office series, and the Center’s Coaching Institute. Regarding the former, we’re starting a mailing list for current and aspiring district leaders. We will add the names of everyone who came on Friday, and if you weren’t there but would like to be added, please click here and include your name in the body of the email. The next session is November 30, and you can find more information on the CAPSS website. Please pass on this information to anyone who might be interested.
Regarding the Coaching Institute, I can say confidently that I’ve never had so much fun at a training, and the phrase “good luck” will always be associated in my mind with the experience. Thanks to everyone who came—and can I also just say that some districts sent multiple people, and that was a very smart thing to do, because our coaching is about supporting district strategy as well as supporting individuals in their work. We are working on follow up sessions already; I’ll keep you posted.
I was watching The Colbert Report while working on the plan for the institute, and the message was particularly apposite. In this clip, Stephen Colbert is interviewing Bob Woodward about his new book,Fear. You may have heard of it, it’s about life and work in the Trump White House. I am as fascinated as anyone by what happens in the Trump White House, but what I found particularly interesting was what Woodward says about interviewing his sources. Colbert starts by asking him, “Why do people talk to you?” And Woodward’s response is very telling. He says, basically, that people want to talk and that you just have to stay quiet long enough and they’ll tell you their story.
“I remember going to one general’s house and he opened the door, we didn’t have an appointment, I was afraid I might get shot, and he looked at me and he said, ‘Are you still doing this shit?’” Woodward recalled. “And he meant it, so I just did poker face. In the CIA, they teach people to let the silence suck out the truth. So just be quiet and people want to talk, and he said, ‘Come on in.’”
When I did my coaching training—participating, not running—several years ago, one of the many public practice sessions was with an HR executive who’d just retired and was looking to start her own coaching/consulting business. She lived in Florida, and had a lovely life with a beautiful house and a partner who loved to sail his enormous yacht. When we started, she said that what she wanted to do during our session was work on her business plan. And I thought to myself, more or less, holy mackerel, I have not the first clue what even goes into a business plan. I have been a public sector employee my whole life. So I listened to her as she talked, very upbeat, about the thinking she’d already put into the business plan.
I was terrified. I was about to fall flat on my face in front of a couple of dozen people. When she paused for breath, clearly expecting me to ask a question, I thought to myself, more or less, holy macaroni, I have no clue what to ask her. So I sat there rather stupidly and just stared at her. It was a very bad moment. Then, as we sat there in heavy silence, her tone and her posture and her facial expression shifted. She began to tear up, and she said sadly, “because I just don’t want to spend the rest of my life sitting around on the boat.” And we went from there.
Afterwards, the people who’d been watching and listening to this coaching session came up to me and said, more or less, “WOW!, that was such an impressive use of silence, I really learned a lot from how you handled that; how did you learn to do that?” I did not, to my present embarrassment, confess that this was just luck and not skill. But I am not stupid, and I realized that what I experienced as a weighty silence was, to my client, an important turning point. It transformed the way I thought and acted; it was life-changing, for her and for me.
Obviously, my goals and Bob Woodward’s goals are very different. I want to support people’s thinking. He wants to milk them for everything they’re worth. Either way, let the silence suck out the truth.
Let me know if there is anything I can do for you. Good luck, Isobel
Isobel Stevenson PhD PCC
Connecticut Center for School Change
151 New Park Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106