How to listen well
lis-ten-ing n: the process of receiving, constructing meaning from, and responding to spoken and/or nonverbal messages
Coaching is a different type of conversation than those we have on a day to day basis. When coaching, the coach is listening intently to what the client is saying and feeling. It is not a two-way conversation as such, rather the focus is on and all about the client. The coach should only share personal information and stories if they pertain to and can help the client.
If all we did was listen to our clients, it would be enough.
The equation for coaching is that the coach listens 80 % of the time and speaks 20 % of the time. If something different is happening, check in and see if you are really coaching or not.
The Importance of Listening
How many of us feel like we are really listened to – that people really get what we are saying? Most people do not feel like they are heard. As coaches, this is one of the most vital services we can provide. Part of what our clients are paying us for, is to simply listen to them. Just listen. That in itself is powerful.
Things to listen for when having a session with a client:
- What they are saying
- What they are not saying
- How they are saying it
- What feelings and emotions are being expressed (Are any being withheld?)
- Cause vs. symptoms (Are symptoms being expressed? Or is it more a cause?)
In addition, a coach listens for what the client is committed to as opposed to their grumblings, whining, or their “stories.” A coach is listening for what truly inspires a client, lightens them up, excites them, what frees them, and keeps them from resignation. A coach then listens for what would fulfill that inspiration, and listens for what gets in the way. Above all, a coach listens to a client as a magnificent, extraordinary person, as their greater self and relates to them that way.
What are some other examples of things you could be listening for?
The client does not always tell you everything that is happening. Listen for subtle changes in voice, avoidance of questions or a change in subject. If a client starts to get aggravated or angry, you most likely are touching on something. Very gently, ask the client more questions. Let the client know what you are really hearing, and ask if there is something they want to say about it.
Listening is more than just hearing until the other person has stopped talking so we can share our thoughts with them. Active listening involves MUCH more than just talking! To be effective in your communication you must master the skill of “active listening.” To listen is to “tune in” to what is not being said, how it is said, and what feelings or emotions may or may not be expressed.
Most of us think we listen, yet we do not always “attend” to the person who is speaking to us. We are too busy doing other things. Or even thinking about things while others are talking to us! How many times do you catch yourself holding onto judgments, opinions, or even beliefs about someone or something that is being said – while they are talking! Sometimes we forget to “live in the present moment.” Active listening is about being in the present to “tune in” every moment that is necessary.
The following skills, when practiced, will improve your listening skills and your relationship with your clients!
To be an “active listener” you must develop the following skills:
Remain silent when someone speaks. (Easy to say, hard to do.) Give the speaker your complete attention. Avoid distracting behaviors or interruptions. Coach from a clean desk. Keep anything distracting out of view to listen thoroughly.
Verify what you are hearing by repeating it back in your own words. A specific example of this might be; “What I heard you say was…” When you can repeat back what the client has just said, then you let the client know you have “truly heard” them. The client will feel understood and welcomed by your listening. That space of listening honors the client genuinely. This is a special gift you can give to your client. Too often, few people really “hear” what others say, but with active listening “hearing” becomes powerful.
Checking perception is similar to paraphrasing with one important distinction. Perception checking is about feelings more than words. The focus is on checking what you perceive to be the emotions that motivate the client’s communication. The concern is not what the client communicated in words, as much as it is what they conveyed by their tone of voice, what they really mean to say, and what emotion is genuine. The rest is just “noise or fog” clouding the truth.
Active listening is about listening to the truth, to what is honest and real. As a coach, you can mirror back to your client what is real, true and honest. This in itself is the gift of active listening.
We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we talk.
Coaches can miss many of the emotional dimensions of a conversation if they are not listening for what is not being said. Consequently, they can miss what the client’s personal reaction to the event is and how they really feel about it. If the feeling is missed, we lose the opportunity to sense the unique situation of the client. Feelings help us sort our data, organize it, and use it effectively as we shape and share relevant feedback.
As a coach, you can reflect feelings back to the client. You may say things such as: “It sounds as if you are feeling….” “You seem really upset, excited, overwhelmed about….” Give the client the opportunity to confirm or disagree with your reflections of their feelings. This, too, will allow the client to feel truly heard.
Be empathetic and non judgmental
When you value the client and accept the client’s feelings you will be able to empathize more, to “hear” more clearly and completely, and to offer them the gift of being heard. Forgo judgments. Just Listen!!
Tip: Our judgments can impair our listening. Opinions can have an impact on how we tend to listen to people and may have an impact on our relationships. As a coach, when you listen actively and stay in the “present” you are more likely to avoid making mistakes.
This is an excerpt from the full training module found in the Certified Coach Program. For more information or for a copy of the full module email us at firstname.lastname@example.org