Research Paper By Alexandra Philipona
(Business and Life Coach, SWITZERLAND)
Nowadays the ability of listening seems to vanish. Our society lives under the motto “time is money”, which makes us run around from morning till evening. People lose their focus on themselves, on their needs on their body. We don’t take the time to listen to our self nor to the people around us. Though listening and being listened to is one of the most essential things in our life. If we sense not being listened to, we are feeling lonely, neglected, not worth living, useless. We are disconnected to our self and the others. If we don’t listen we don’t understand, we are feeling confused, angry, unhappy and isolated.
Francesc Torralba describes it like this:
When we meet a person who can listen, we are happy. We instinctively wish to spend as much time as possible with him/her. We enjoy telling our affairs of the heart without pressure and knowing that we can rely on the undivided attention, the devotion of others. It’s wonderful when someone just listens, without resentment or reservation.
Definition of hearing, listening, attention, empathy:
Hearing, or auditory perception, is the ability to perceive sounds by detecting vibrations, changes in the pressure of the surrounding medium through time, through an organ such as the ear. The academic field concerned with hearing is auditory science.
Listening is to give one’s attention to sound or action. Listening involves complex affective, cognitive, and behavioural processes. Effective processes include the motivation to attend to others; cognitive processes include attending to, understanding, receiving, and interpreting content and relational messages; and behavioural processes include responding with verbal and nonverbal feedback.
Attention, also referred to as enthrallment, is the behavioural and cognitive process of selectively concentrating on a discrete aspect of information, whether deemed subjective or objective, while ignoring other perceivable information. It is a state of arousal. It is the taking possession by the mind in clear and vivid form of one out of what seem several simultaneous objects or trains of thought. Focalization, the concentration of consciousness, is of its essence. Attention or enthrallment has also been described as the allocation of limited cognitive processing resources.
Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another’s position. There are many definitions for empathy that encompass a broad range of emotional states. Types of empathy include cognitive empathy, emotional empathy, and somatic empathy.
Active listening in Coaching
The so called “active listening” takes an important part in coaching. The coach doesn’t just hear what the client is saying. The coach is attentive with his/her whole body. Fully concentrated he/she is listening what the client says, how he/she says it, the coach captivates the level of energy in the voice and observes the coachee’s body language. When the coach is listening in an active way he/she lets the client talk most of the time, he/she is dancing in the moment with the client and the right powerful questions will be asked automatically. In consequence the client will feel that the coach is providing a confidential space and that he/she is curious about the client. The empathy is literally “in the air” between the coach and the coachee.
The International Coach Federation tells us: active listening
Active Listening – Ability to focus completely on what the client is saying and is not saying, to understand the meaning of what is said in the context of the client’s desires, and to support client self-expression
- Attends to the client and the client's agenda, and not to the coach's agenda for the client,
- Hears the client's concerns, goals, values and beliefs about what is and is not possible,
- Distinguishes between the words, the tone of voice, and the body language,
- Summarizes, paraphrases, reiterates, mirrors back what client has said to ensure clarity and understanding,
- Encourages, accepts, explores and reinforces the client's expression of feelings, perceptions, concerns, beliefs, suggestions, etc.,
- Integrates and builds on client's ideas and suggestions,
- "Bottom-lines" or understands the essence of the client's communication and helps the client get there rather than engaging in long descriptive stories,
- Allows the client to vent or "clear" the situation without judgment or attachment in order to move on to next steps.
The three levels of listening according the Co-Active® Coaching Skills
It seems so obvious that listening would be one of the primary coaching contexts. In fact, we say that coaching happens in the context of a very particular kind of listening. In Co-Active® Coaching we talk about three levels of listening.
Level 1: Internal Listening
When a person listens at Level 1, they are actually listening to the sound of their own inner voice. That’s where their attention is. They may hear the words of the other person, but they are primarily aware of their own opinions, stories, judgments — their own feelings, needs, and itches. They may be nodding, and going, “uh huh,” but inside they are saying things like:
“I had an experience just like that.”
“This is starting to bore me.”
“I really need to get home to watch TV.”
“I’m hungry; when was the last time I ate?”
“I’m terrified I’ll say the wrong thing and look stupid.”
There are plenty of times in our lives when it is perfectly normal — it’s actually important for us to pay close attention to our own needs and opinions — essential that we listen at Level 1. For example, when the contractor is asking you how you want your kitchen remodelled; that’s a situation that is 100% about what you want; your opinions, judgments, desires. And of course, it’s essential that clients in the coaching relationship be at Level 1. The coaching attention is fully on them: their lives, what they want, where they are and where they’re headed.
Level 2: Focused Listening
At Level 2 there is a hard focus, like a laser, from coach to client. All of the attention is directed in one way. Think of a mother with a sick baby; all of her attention is hard focused on the child. There might be great chaos all around her, but the mother stays focused on the child and the child’s needs. Picture two young lovers sitting on a park bench; they’re both at Level 2 with their attention completely focused on the other person; they can be oblivious to the world around them. They are two people completely at Level 2, listening intently to every word and “listening” for every nuance in the conversation. In order for coaching to be as effective as possible, coaches need to be able to coach at Level 2. And then they need to add the ability to listen at Level 3.
Level 3: Global Listening
This is the soft focus listening that takes in everything. At Level 3 you are aware of the energy between you and others. You are also aware of how that energy is changing; you detect sadness, lightness, shifts in attitude. You are aware of the environment and whatever is going on in the environment. There is a way you are conscious of underlying mood, or tone, or the impact of the conversation — where it is taking you and the person you are talking to. Stand-up comedians have a highly developed sense of listening at Level 3. They know when their humour is landing and when it isn’t. Performers in general have highly developed antennae tuned to the Level 3 in a room — a sense of how the performance is being received — how the energy is building or dissipating. This is also the level at which your intuition will be most available to you as well as metaphor and imagery. Coaches learn to listen with this soft focus, Level 3 in order to pick up as much information as possible about the underlying impact in the moment.
Coaching at Level 2 and Level 3
The most effective coaching takes place when the coach is at Level 2 and 3. There will be times when coaches will drop into their own Level 1 place. The coach will fall back into judgment and opinion about whatever is happening in the coaching, and in effect, disconnect from the client. The coach may be analysing their own performance, as in, “that was a stupid question to ask,” or “I wish I was recording this session; the coaching is brilliant.” At Level 1, the coach may be pushing their own agenda — sometimes with the best intentions of “helping the client.” As a coach, the key is to notice when you are listening at Level 1 and find your way back “over there” with the client. Sometimes all it takes is asking a provocative, curious question.
What are practical applications for reflection in coaching?
- Give the person your full attention.
- Listen with your whole body with the purpose of feeling your way into your partner’s perspective.
- Listen with the right attitude and purpose.
- Don’t talk while the other person is talking.
- Ask questions from a place of curiosity rather than judgment. Judgment is an empathy killer.
- Acknowledge and validate your partner’s emotions.
- Do not move too quickly to try and problem-solving.
- Respect your partner’s space.
- Repeat back your understanding of what they have said.
- Switch roles (visualisation).
1 Francesc Torralba, Die Kunst des Zuhörens, Verlag C.H. Beck München, ISBN 978-3-406-56345-4
2 Plack, C. J. (2014). The Sense of Hearing. Psychology Press Ltd. ISBN 978-1848725157.
3 Halone, Kelby; Cunconan, Terry; Coakley, Carolyn; Wolvin, Andrew (1998). “Toward the establishment of general dimensions underlying the listening process”. International Journal of Listening. 12: 12–28. doi:10.1080/10904018.1998.10499016.
4 Anderson, John R. (2004). Cognitive Psychology and Its Implications (6th ed.). Worth Publishers. p. 519. ISBN 978-0-7167-0110-1.
5 Bellet, Paul S.; Michael J. Maloney (1991). “The importance of empathy as an interviewing skill in medicine”. JAMA. 22
6 (13): 1831–1832. doi:10.1001/jama.1991.03470130111039. Archived from the original on June 26, 2015.
6 Rothschild, B. (with Rand, M. L.). (2006). Help for the Helper: The psychophysiology of compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma.