A Coaching Power Tool Created by Anne Kathrin Schubert
(Life Coach, GERMANY)
The importance of listening
Imagine a father and a teenage daughter speaking to one another. While the father tries to give instructions to his daughter about habits she needs to change, like spent less money, focus on your education and so on, the daughter gets more and more upset. You can see both of them hurting: The dad who desperately wants her daughter to change, the daughter who just wants to be asked:
What are your goals? What do you want in life?
If we would ask the father what needed to happen, he might say:
If she would just listen to me, things would work out so much better!.
And if asked, the daughter’s response might be:
Why doesn´t he ever listen to what I want?
All of us want to be heard. We want to be accepted, to be known, to be valued for who we are. But often people tend to speak in monologues, trying to get our pints through.
Listening is one of the key elements in coaching. While listening we give the other person the space to exploring, becoming self-aware and discovering her own resources. This might sound simple, but it can be very challenging! By not giving any advice’s we might feel like not being a real help to the other person, or even being inadequate. We might feel passive. However, giving advice’s equals given a diagnosis to the problem!
Fun challenge for coaches:
Get out a pen and paper and sit down at your computer keyboard. Next, pick a favorite song that you know pretty well. Now, here´s the challenge: Sing the song out loud, and while you are singing, simultaneously write or type out the words to the pledge of allegiance. Go ahead…! what happens? Normally I get stuck after few lines, stop singing or writing.
The moral of the story:
As human beings we can´t multitask at everything. We can dance and sing, but it is tough for our brains to do two different things with words at one time.
The process of thoughts towards diagnosis
When we listen, there is often a certain pattern to the conversation that get´s triggered in our heads.
- Something makes us curious;
- We identify the problem: We start assembling clues to what is going on;
- We develop a potential solution;
- We develop strategy to get the person to see our solution;
Kelly wants to lose weight. She says:
I really want to lose weight. So many times I have written it into my diary and even checked out certain foods I should not eat and the time schedule of the gym nearby. But then always something gets into my way. Like yesterday, my husband came home and just shouted at me from nowhere, complaining that he did not get any meat on his plate. I got so frustrated, I just ordered some fast food and we ate, and I ate plenty of it! I am so angry about myself, and don´t even want to go to the gym, I might feel so exposed…
The coach listens and picks up when she talks about the husband. She registers it.
Does the husband get angry more often? How is the marriage anyway? How does Kelly usually react when conflict arises? These are indeed interesting questions. But then, the coach goes to the next step as she is reminded of her own marriage conflicts and feels her own pain of unsolved problems. In her mind she sees Kelly’s husband every evening picking on her, without any word of appreciation. Off course, the solution is clear: Kelly needs to learn to put boundaries and not always giving into her husband’s demands! Also, marriage counseling would help Kelly’s self-esteem! As she asks questions in order to make Kelly understand those solutions
Have you ever thought about solving your marriage problems?
Kelly feels uncomfortable. During the conversation she had also mentioned that her husband has a tough season at work, and that she had promised him in the morning to cook something special for him which she did not do. But it seems like her coach did not listen to her well. She withdraws inside, feeling guilty to have talked about her husband in a bad way.
From this example we can learn:
The coach’s first instinct (curiosity) was right. But how her thought patterns continued (off course without her being aware of them) was not appropriate and interfered with the coaching process. Instead of using her intuition to identify the problems and solutions, she should have stopped at step one, with the thing that made her curious and ask the client what it means. The key to listening well is to stop trying to fix people while you are listening and instead make your job to just be curious. Coaching is curiosity-driven, not diagnosis-driven.
What would have been alternative questions?
Kelly, you talked about you feeling frustrated because of your husband’s demands. Can you expand on that?
Kelly, how do you normally react when you are frustrated? Anything that has helped you in the past dealing with frustrations/conflict?
I am hearing you got frustrated yesterday evening. What did you think in that moment? Which other thoughts would empower you and make you overcome this frustration?
Disadvantage of seeking a diagnosis
Coaching is not about listening for solutions. We distinguish possibilities from solutions, and encourage coaches to begin listening for possibilities from the beginning of their work. Coaches need to remain open to client´s creativity in generating solutions. Listening for solutions is a block to coaching because it distorts the process ….Becoming a professional coach, P Williams, D Menendez, p.15
Advantage of curious listening:
- What holds people back is not a lack of insight, but a lack of confidence in their own ideas or an inability to put them into words.
- If a coach listens without trying to figure out the problem, she affirms and empowers people to express themselves and feeling significant.
- God is a listener. For a Christian coach it is important to understand that to listen is to imitate God. “…Jesus raised his eyes to haven and prayed: “Father, I am grateful that you have listened to me. I know you always listen…” (John 11:41-42 MSG)
- When the coach expresses confidence in the client’s abilities by listening, they will start believing in themselves too.
- Listening enables the clients to sit back and examine themselves, with more distance to their emotions. They can push through the fog of emotions and preconceptions, break out of the box they are in and see the solution clearly.
- Assuming to have figured out somebodies problems means applying judgment. And this blocks the attention, so the coach will miss some of the things the client is saying.
- People only do what they want to do anyway. If you push people where they don´t want to be pushed you get resistance. On the opposite, if the client has discovered the solutions by themselves, the motivation to take extra steps is very high!
- The agenda behind finding solutions might be that the coach wants to feel successful. This would fulfill the coach’s needs, to the clients. Therefore:
a. Focus on listening instead of trying to think of powerful questions to reply.
b. Don´t try to figure out the clients problem. Just listen and she will tell you the answer.
c. Do not be pushed by the client’s urgency to come to conclusions.
- Be aware: When does the conversation in your head start while listening? a. I see your problem and I am figuring out how to solve it while I am listening
- I´m already composing my reply or next question while you are still talking
- I was in a conflict today and I can´t get it out of my mind.
- “Not that issue again!!”
- I am personally frustrated by something in the conversation and I start
thinking about my emotions instead of what I am hearing.
- What you said reminds me of a task I need to do
- Something in my environment (like e-mail) gets me thinking about what I am seeing instead of what I am hearing.
- be aware of distracting environment
- Your to.do-list/email is sitting in front of you
- there is a lot of background noise (others talking, phone ringing, etc)
- You are sitting at your main work desk
- you just finished another meeting, project or deadline within 10 minutes before this appointment
- You are hungry, thirsty, tired or otherwise not really comfortable
- You are stressed, there is a conflict in your life.
- How could I exercise daily curious listening?
- What is my motivation of coaching? Can I be trapped in wanting to have success and therefore looking for a diagnosis and solution?
- How can I improve my listening skills?
- Do I have a distracting environment while coaching? What can (and will!) I do about it?
Curious listening can be very challenging, especially for coaches from counseling or consulting backgrounds. However, it is worth trying and learning it! Coaching is a powerful art, and whoever is serious about it and wants to be effective while serving the clients will enjoy the benefits and joy of it!