Competency no. 5 Active Listening
Connected with the previous competency of coaching presence, active listening is the ability to focus on the client, and to hear the client’s concerns, listening between the lines, and make connections with what the client is saying or not saying. As has been mentioned above, intuition comes into play through consciously directed attention. Focused listening allows for processing of implicit information in the client’s speech, which may be words, tone of voice, pauses, pace, or avoidance of topics etc. This ability to pick up information other than simply words has been demonstrated by numerous researchers. In a study by Lewicki (1986) participants were shown photos of facial expressions and were able to detect minute variations of the basic proportions of the human face. The participants reported feeling that something was wrong with the faces, but were not able to specify what exactly.
In another study by Ambady and Rosenthal (1993) undergraduates watched a 6 second clip of a teacher giving a seminar with the sound turned off. They were then asked to rate the teaching ability of the teacher. Their rating was then compared to those of other students who had actually been present in the seminar of the teacher. They found a significant correlation between the ratings of the students who only had visual information about the teacher compared with those who were present in the seminar with the teacher.
Lieberman (2000) cites this as an example of intuitive processing, which involves non-consciously drawing inferences about other individuals on the basis of subtle sequences of nonverbal cues.
Mavor (2009) also reports that coaches used a lot of nonverbal cues when listening for indications about the client’s state. Intuition was used extensively to understand what was “behind” the client’s words. Setting aside judgment during active listening was also important for the effectiveness of intuition, using it as an offering rather than as truth.
Competency no. 6 Powerful Questioning
A direct result of active listening and coaching presence is the ability to ask questions that reveal information or help the client make connections. The use of intuition can result in the most appropriate questions that evoke discovery and insight.
In their exploration of intuition in managerial decision-making Dane and Pratt (2007) postulate that intuition involves both a process and an outcome. The process typically involves non-conscious pattern-recognition, as has been discussed above in relation to coaching presence and active listening. Intuitive outcomes are the actions that directly result from the intuitive processing, which in the case of coaching are the strategies and questions employed by the coach. This is consistent with Mavor’s findings in which she refers to the process as intuiting, and the outcome as intuitive judgments (Mavor 2009). Her survey shows that intuition is used to inspire coaches to sometimes ask about something “out of the blue” that had not been mentioned by the client. She reports that intuition is often used to direct the flow of questioning.
Furthermore, using imagination to create powerful questions could also be related to intuition. As Kautz (2003) points out imagination is important in cognitive processes for filling in gaps of perception. Hence imagination can be used to lead to intuitive judgements.
Competency no. 7 Direct Communication
The ability to provide feedback and choose the most appropriate language in sharing alternative perspectives is very much tied in with the previously discussed points on intuition. All the qualities of intuition are involved here and are a further example of intuitive judgments as an outcome of intuition.
Competency no. 8 Creating Awareness
Within the ICF framework this is defined as the ability to integrate and accurately evaluate multiple sources of information with the end of helping the client to gain a greater awareness.
This integration of information appears to be a salient feature of intuition. As Dane and Pratt (2007) point out intuition comes into play in circumstances where rational analysis cannot function. Typically this is when multiple streams of information need to be encoded very rapidly at a non-conscious level. Psychological studies have suggested that in making non-conscious holistic associations individuals map stimuli onto internal cognitive structures or frameworks (Dane & Pratt 2007). This is consistent with other findings that have associated intuition with the ability to synthesize unconnected memory fragments into a new information structure (Mintzberg, Ahlstrand and Lampel, 1998).
This idea of the holistic nature of intuitive process can also be traced back to the Jungian concept of “the big picture” or seeing things in their broader context (see Anderson, 2000; Singer, 1994).
These ideas all tie in with the findings from Mavor (2009) that coaches use intuition to make connections from what the client has said, to corroborate the client’s words with their behavior, and to identify patterns. This intuitive integration of information gives rise to intuitive judgments which, according to the coaches in her study, resulted in challenging the client, raising awareness, and creating shifts, all of which benefitted the client in terms of moving towards achieving the agreed on goals.
Often, the use of intuition in itself can create awareness regardless of the accuracy of the intuitive judgments being made. As Whitworth et al (2007) succinctly put it,
“The thing about intuition and coaching is that intuition always forwards the action and deepens the learning, even when it lands with a clang instead of a melodious ping”.