How do you explain passion? How do you know with every core of your being that something is perfect or impossible? The answer lies in what Michael Polanyi calls “The Tacit Dimension.” Tacit knowledge is what we know that we would struggle to say.
Think about young Tim, a teenager just coming to grip with the concept of “love.” I can picture this 13-year-old boy coming to his father and saying, “I really love Betty.” Dad, after calming down, would ask “What makes you think you’re in love?” Tim has some ideas, but can’t come close to telling the whole story.
Tim’s problem is the one we all have. We know more than we can say. This is why we can recognize a face but not describe it. It’s those hunches that gamblers play. It’s those brass rings that let us say things we don’t even remember knowing but they fit the conversation perfectly.
Coaches get a lot of business because of this fundamental human characteristic. Good coaches ask question to let you say what you know. Great coaches ask questions to support you in digging deeper into what you know but haven’t said.
Michael Polyani, a scientific theorist, refers to this aspect of human knowledge as “the tacit dimension.” We know more than we can tell. And the more we tell, the more we know exists behind those statements.
Interestingly, we can’t get at our tacit knowledge by being told. We only recognize that deeper knowledge when asked about it.
That’s why coaches matter. They can ask the questions. They are curious. They take what you say and ask for what’s behind it. Coaches have great metaphors to describe this:
- Peeling back the layers
- Unpacking this box
- Digging deeper
The ability to do this well is not an easy skill. It takes thought and training. Learning the science of coaching helps, but understanding the right question at the right time is really about the art of coaching. (And even great coaches can’t tell you everything about how they do it.) How can you learn:
Engage with a mentor coach. Your mentor can help you take apart a coaching sequence so you push your understanding deeper.
Practice mindfulness. Think more about your second question than your first. Take time to ask a question that pushes into the tacit dimension.
Get training. Coach training gives you the opportunity to appreciate the art of coaching. Investigate possible coach training programs and find one that seems to resonate with you. Your tacit knowledge will help you find the right one if you listen to it.