Research Paper By Kunnath Chandran
(Executive Coach, India)
Listening is cited as the most important component of effective communications.
Eckhart Tolle in his book, “Stillness Speaks” says,
True listening goes far beyond auditory perception.
He terms it as
a space of conscious presence where words become secondary.
Instead listening becomes
a unifying field of awareness in which you meet the other without the separative barriers created by conceptual thinking.
The other person is no longer the “other” says Tolle, but both are
joined together as one awareness, one consciousness
– an apt description of a true coach-and-coachee relationship.
The heart and soul of all coaching is communications, and the attribute of powerful listening is essential for a successful coach. Plutarch, the Greek biographer, in his famous essay on listening almost two thousand years ago wrote,
Learn how to listen and you will prosper even from those who talk badly (Essays, 1992).
Can a coach then learn to be a competent listener ‘come what may’ to be effective with a client? This paper examines the impact of a coach’s attitudes on his or her development as a powerful listener.
‘The International Listening Association’ defines listening as the process of receiving, constructing meaning from, and responding to spoken and nonverbal messages (www.listen.org, 1996). Little was known about the process of listening till recently. The word ‘listening’ was in fact often used interchangeably with the term ‘hearing’ which essentially is a physical sequence of the three stages of receiving sound (by the ears), registering the sound in the brain, and auditory association. Thus, while hearing is mostly physiological in nature, listening is a psychological act. Although the mechanics of hearing are a prerequisite to listening, moving from mere hearing to effective listening requires a conscious and deliberate effort, and it starts with looking inwards.
Listening is ‘Action’
The philosopher Immanuel Kant traces human behavior back to underlying thoughts or beliefs in an interesting sequence: Perception → Belief/Thought → Feeling/Emotion → Behavior.
When we think or feel something, we act this out, (‘Underlying Beliefs’, ICA Module, Level 2.)
Our beliefs and attitudes are reflected in our behavior or actions, and the results obtained relate directly to those actions. ‘Powerful listening’ viewed within this paradigm thus becomes ‘action’ emanating from attitudes such as respect, care and compassion for the client and hence leading to ‘Effective Coaching’ which is the desired result.
One of the main points Ralph Nichols made in his early book ‘Listening is a 10 Part Skill’ was that a listener should concentrate on the ideas and thoughts of the speaker and not get distracted by his own ‘monologues’ or interior noises (www.listen.org.) A positive psychological disposition and the “willingness” to listen are crucial for competent listening while anxiety and stress interfere with this ability (Brownell, 2006.) Stephen Covey in ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ states that effective listening requires emotional strength and involves ‘highly developed qualities of character.’ The listener’s authenticity and the confidence level of the speaker should lead to opening a ‘soul to soul flow.’ In his book ‘Emotional Intelligence’ Daniel Goleman also points out that the power lies in ‘actually hearing the feelings behind what is being said.’
Michael Purdy, author of ‘Listening in Everyday Life’, listed the characteristics of competent as well as ineffective listeners after studies conducted in the 1990s. These could be tabulated either as ‘skills’ or ‘attitudes’ as below:
It is therefore essential that apart from learning the ‘skills’ as listed above a coach needs to consciously develop and internalize appropriate attitudes at the grass-root level to bring powerful listening into his practice.