If we could all just learn to listen, everything else would fall into place. Listening is the key to being patient centered. Ian McWhinney
The intent of this paper is to discuss the concept of ACTIVE LISTENING and its relevance not only for achieving effective communication, but also as one of the most important coaching skills.
In this discussion we will go through the different aspects of listening. We will analyze the significance of Active Listening, what are the required techniques and skills, and how to develop them. On the other hand we will also analyze why it is so difficult for people to really listen, and the barriers that people experience in the process. There will also be a review of the techniques and skills that active listeners possess. Finally we will review active listening in relation to the coaching field.
Listening involves hearing the speaker’s words, understanding the message and its importance to the speaker, and communicating that understanding to the speaker. The apparent problem is, of all the communication skills, listening is the earliest learned and the most frequently used, yet it seems to be the least mastered.
Listening is essential for communication. Being a good listener helps you see the world through the eyes of others, thereby opening your understanding and enhancing your capacity for empathy which is essential for having a good coaching relationship with our clients. However as simple as listening to and acknowledging other people may seem, doing it well, takes sincere effort and lots of practice.
There are different levels of listening, but the focus of this paper will be Active listening, which requires that we listen not only for the content of the speakers message, but more importantly, for the intent and feeling of the message as well.
Listening facilitates the development and maintenance of relationships and in coaching it is critical in order to build trust and create a safe space for our clients. During sessions, coaches must spend most of the time listening, so it is a skill that must learned and mastered. It is such a part of our everyday life, and has such an importance in our career that we should never take it for granted.
Active listening is a way of showing interest and curiosity, and that fosters cohesive bonds, commitment, and trust. If coaches listen to their clients, they will learn “what are their triggers for action.” When they know what their triggers for action are, they will be more effective at motivating them. And encourage them when they need encouraging.
This paper is going to examine not only the how important listening is in our everyday lives but also how critical it is for us coaches to develop good active listening skills.
Background of Listening
Most people don’t listen as effectively as they think and probably don’t know it. While most people agree that listening is a very important skill, most people don’t feel a strong need to improve their own skill level.
It is said that listening is the earliest communication skill acquired, the most often used, but the least mastered.
Typically, researchers separate listeners into three or four specific types or levels. All systems are slightly different in how they separate listeners but all offer a continuum from non-listeners to very deep listeners.
Newkirk and Linden (1982) present a system that examines three specific listening
types: time wasters, dissonance reducers and active listeners.
Time wasters’ daydream, which is not bad itself, however they can lose control and tune all speakers out. Dissonance reducers attempt to deal with the internal conflict they encounter from new information received, that is inconsistent with their existing attitudes. Active listeners listen with a greater degree of sensitivity. They must not only understand the content of the message but also the speaker’s feelings.
Another proposal of classification is the one brought by Hunsaker and Alessandra (1986) they put listeners in one of four general categories, according to the depth of concentration and sensitivity on the part of the listener. The four types are: the non-listener, marginal listener, evaluative listener, and the active listener. As we move from the first, through the forth the potential for understanding, trust and effective communication increase: