Research Paper By Marissa Cutler
(Career Coach, UNITED STATES)
Trusting your intuition can set you apart from other coaches. This paper will explore what it means to have a coaching “hunch” as well as how powerful listening can inform these instincts. Powerful listening leads to powerful questions to evoke a new awareness within your client.
I will never forget my fourth mentor coaching session. I was trying to impress the ICA assessor and completely forgot to listen to my client. I was completely shaking after this session and doubted that I had what it took to be a coach. If that was not a good session, what was it? After days of reflection and overanalyzing, I realized I was only concerned with showing off all my fancy tools and the skills I have learned in my ICA classes. I completely ignored what my client was telling me. Their words, their emotions, were right there in front of me and I decided to ignore all of that and focus on what I thought the client needed and not what the client was telling me they wanted. This was a turning point for me. It was not until this moment that I understood what powerful listening meant. If a coach truly listens to their client, naturally they will know what to ask next. This paper will explore what intuition is, the levels of listening, and the connection between the two.
What is intuition?
Intuition is defined by Merriam Webster as the following: the power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference; immediate apprehension or cognition; quick and ready insight.[i]In this paper the synonym “hunch” will also be used to further explain this sensation. Hunch is defined as “a strong intuitive feeling concerning especially a future event or result.”[ii]
Often a coach will develop a hunch when listening to their client. This hunch can be used to generate future powerful questions. Trust and intimacy, which is important to create in a coaching relationship, will allow the coach to follow these hunches and trust their gut. From day one the coach is collecting a database about the client’s thoughts, feelings, learning styles, vocabulary, etc. It is the coach’s role to listen to their client, not to judge or respond, but to evoke a new awareness.
The Importance of a Database
From the first interaction, you have with someone, you are unconsciously collecting data. You do this by listening or observing the other person. In a virtual world, you might be collecting your data via text, email, or Zoom calls. In the book, “The Heart of Laser-Focused Coaching,” Marion Franklin writes:
“The definition of data is information without any editorial or opinion. Nothing is to be excused or dismissed. All of this information is to be stored in your mental ‘databank’ to be retrieved at any time.”[iii]
It is important to emphasize that this data is collected without any judgment or with the impression of being right. This data is simply collected to better understand your client and should only be recalled when relevant. In many cases, as coaching relationships strengthen, a pattern may emerge. In other words, a client keeps providing the coach with the same data. In this case, there maybe be evidence that the information being shared should be used to generate a powerful question.
Data should not be taken out of context and should not be used to guide the client according to the coach’s opinions. That could be interpreted as a judgment in the form of needing to be right. According to the International Coaching Federation (ICF) PCC Markers, Competency 7: Direct Communication, Marker number 2, “Coach shares observations, intuitions, comments, thoughts and feelings without any attachment to them being right.”[iv]A coach, depending on their coach-client relationship, may want to ask for permission before sharing an observation. When a relationship is well established an observation can be openly shared, but should always be followed with a neutral open-ended question. Examples include:
- What do you think of that observation?
- What might be true about that?
- What comes to mind when you hear that?
As a coach’s skills grow and develop, their intuition will start to naturally make its appearance in a coaching conversation. The next section will review how powerful listening is at the core of the following intuition.
Levels of Listening
To collect this data, the coach must have an understanding of what it means to listen to their client. Many coaches think they are good listeners until they start their coach training and realize they have been listening differently their entire life. See the quote below from Stephen Covey:
To truly listen to means to transcend your autobiography, to get out of your own frame of reference, out of your own value system, out of your own history and judging tendencies, and to get deeper into the frame of reference or viewpoint of another person. This is called empathic listening. It is a very, very rare skill. But it is more than a skill. Much more.- Stephen R. Covey, The 8th Habit
Stephen Covey identifies five levels of listening on a continuum. Levels one through four are within our own frame of reference, while level five is within the other person’s frame of reference. Below are the five levels as mentioned on LeadersWhoLead.com:
- Ignoring: zero effort put into listening to the other person
- Pretending to Listen (Patronizing): gives the impression that one is listening, but the listener is not present
- Selective Listening: only listening to parts of the message; quick to interrupt and tendency to finish sentences
- Attentive Listening: offer time and attention; pays attention to the other person, but internalizes the message within our own frame of reference
- Empathetic Listening: the highest level of listening; focuses on the other person’s frame of reference; listens to the words and what the other person means; gives time and full attention[v]
In a coaching relationship, the coach should be listening at an empathetic level. Listening at this level removes the listener’s perspectives, beliefs, and biases from the conversation and puts the client as the center of attention. When the coach is listening to the client with an empathetic ear, a clear coaching agreement can be established and powerful questions can be developed to move the client forward in their desired direction. Using all senses is required when empathetically listening to someone else.
To further emphasize that not all listening is created equal, KrasimirKashinov, MBA, PMP, ACC references the book Co-Active Coaching by Henry and Karen Kimsey-House in her blog post “The Art of Listening.” Kashinov references three levels of listening. Those levels are outlined below:
- Level 1: the listener focuses on their own thoughts, opinions, judgments, and feelings
- Level 2: the listener’s attention is on the speaker and the conversation; one is paying attention to what is said and how it is being said; this includes tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions
- Level 3: everything in level 2 in addition to using intuition; the listener is open to receiving more information; the listener is tuned into the environment [vi]
A coach should be listening at both a level 2 and 3. Level one listening is not useful in a coaching relationship. If a coach finds themselves listening at a level one, they may find their mind wandering towards something outside of the coaching conversation. If this happens, finding techniques to re-ground oneself in the conversation will be helpful. Below are a few tips I have found helpful to re-focus:
- Take a deep breath
- Limit distractions
- Become comfortable with silence
- Take a moment to self-reflect. Ask yourself, “What is happening here?” “What is causing me to be distracted from the conversation?” Once you identify the answer, let it go, and focus on the client.
Exploring methods that work for you will contribute to not only your success as a coach but your own self-awareness. When a coach can let go of their own thoughts, opinions, and judgments, they can enter every conversation with the client at the top of the agenda.
The Connection Between Intuition and Listening
When a coach develops the skills to listen at both levels two and three, they will start to exercise their intuition. When listening to the whole client and everything around them, you are better prepared to pick up small nudges or hunches that might be occurring. It is up to the coach to notice when these signals are being delivered and to act upon them. Some may describe these feelings as “gut reactions”, while others do not feel intuition in their gut at all. The important thing is to realize when these feelings are occurring and actually speak up. It is the responsibility of the coach to connect the dots and put words to these feelings. It is a shame when a coaching intuition goes to waste. The important thing to remember is that sharing your observations, thoughts, and intuition is completely appropriate as long as you are listening at an empathetic level with no attachment to your interpretation being right.[vii]The next section will review how intuitive signals can show up differently for individuals and how to identify which is strongest for you.
Developing Intuition and Using Your Natural Senses
According to Dez Stephens, ACC, we are all born with an intuitive gift that may be stronger than all the rest. It is up to the coach to self-discovery and identifies where their intuition is most powerful. She explains these instincts in terms of “Clair” or the Latin word “clear.” Below are her definitions:
- Clairaudience: to naturally hear things
- Claircognizance: to just know things
- Clairvoyance: to see things
- Clairsentience: to physically feel things
- Clairempathy: to emotionally feel things
- Clairsalience: to smell things
- Clairgustance: to taste things
- Clairtangency: to sense touch[viii]
Take a moment to self–reflect. Which intuition is strongest for you? How have you seen your intuition show up for you in the past? How has your intuition shown up while coaching? As human beings, we cannot stop these feelings, these hunches, these intuitions. It is the role of the coach to figure out how to identify when our intuition is presenting itself and most importantly, how it can lead us to ask our next powerful question.
Intuition and the Client
Intuition can also show up on the other end of the conversation. What if the client is ignoring their own intuition? In the book, “The Heart of Laser-Focused Coaching,” by Marion Franklin, she identifies ignoring intuition as a common theme to be aware of in a coaching conversation. She points out that sometimes our clients are too busy or too distracted and they ignore these natural signals. As a coach, your job is to shine a light on when they might be avoiding what they already know. Use your intuition to identify this theme and ask a question such as, “It seems as though you already made a decision, what might be holding you back from trusting this choice?”[ix] A thought-provoking question like this can help uncover the real reason that is preventing forward movement within the client.
Humans receive signals from their bodies all day long. Our brain tells us when to eat. Our stomach might growl when it’s hungry. My fingers are being told to type at this very moment. When a coach enters a coaching session to listen beyond what the client is saying, but takes the time to observe non-verbal cues, the client’s environment, and energy then coaching becomes an instinctual skill itself. It develops into a natural free-flowing dance that can only be achieved when their coaching intuition is being followed. Naturally, this inner hunch will guide the coach to their next powerful question. Coaches choose to leave their biases, judgments, and agendas at the door and put the client at the center of the conversation. It would be a missed opportunity to not share your intuition, a gift so powerful in each one of us, with the potential to evoke a new awareness within a client and help move them forward in achieving their goals.
[i]Intuition. (2020). Retrieved November 11, 2020, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/intuition
[ii]Hunch. (2020). Retrieved November 11, 2020, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hunch
[iii]Franklin, M. (2019). Collect Data. The HeArt of Laser-Focused Coaching: A revolutionary approach to masterful coaching (pp. 35-36). Wilmington, DE: Thomas Noble Books.
[iv]PCC Markers. (2020). Retrieved November 11, 2020, from https://coachfederation.org/pcc-markers
[v]Levels of Listening. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2020, from http://www.leaderwholeads.com/levels-of-listening.html
[vi]Kashinov, K. (2019, July 22). The Art of Listening. Retrieved November 12, 2020, from https://coachfederation.org/blog/the-art-of-listening
[vii]Co-Active Coaching Skills: Intuition. (2018). Retrieved November 11, 2020, from https://partners.coactive.com/CTI-learning-hub/fundamentals/res/FUN-Co-Active-Coaching-Skills-Intuition.pdf
[viii]Stephens, D. (2020, September 30). Become a Better Coach by Developing Your Intuition. Retrieved November 12, 2020, from https://coachfederation.org/blog/developing-your-intuition
[ix]Franklin, M. (2019). Ignoring Intuition. The HeArt of Laser-Focused Coaching: A revolutionary approach to masterful coaching (pp. 136-137). Wilmington, DE: Thomas Noble Books.