Listens Actively

Once we get into the crux of a coaching conversation with the client, the next few skills will be pivotal to unravel the insights and bring about the true transformation for the client. In today’s age of distractions and interference, this is one of the most challenging skills to master and practise in our daily lives, let alone ensuring that we can and must do this as effective, great coaches.

Quotes image of Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.
Source: QuotesCover.com

The quote from Stephen R. Covey as above, can resonate with us as coaches. Sometimes we can be too eager to get into the action of coaching, too enthusiastic to jump unto words, expressions to decode, generate that A-HA moment for the client and find that next powerful question, to become our client’s hero, that we miss out on the power of listening actively.

So, before getting there, let us consider the parties involved in a communication situation especially in crisis, or out of their comfort zone. Typically in the coaching scenario, the client will definitely have the notion of self-interest. “What’s in it for me?” will always be at their minds, no matter how much rapport, presence, love and support that the coach has brought to session and to the client. It’s just human nature. Whereas the coach, may divulge into a hero mentality situation, trying to save the day for the client! Hence, both parties in communication may experience some form of deletion, distortion and generalization of thoughts, emotions and actions (T.E.A.).

So, how do we move from just listening, to listening actively? Easier said than done, nevertheless, it is done, it is done, it is done!

Concept from Catalyst Coach Certification Program

Being fully present and fully listening is the first couple of steps, and having said that recently assessed my own levels of being fully present and fully listening. Honestly, I would fail me BIG TIME! This was a big realization for me in this module. I had to listen to this module at least 5x before grasping the essence, and I reflected on this learning point. Why was it difficult? What was challenging for me? Not only was I not listening, I was not even present. Then, I realized, I had so much on my mind, that I couldn’t even remember whether it was Jack that was class monitor in the webtorial. I then became upset with myself, which made the situation worse, because the harder I tried, the more I couldn’t focus, be present and I couldn’t internalize what was the topic. I was also feeling the pressure of catching up with the modules so that once the NEW NORM starts setting in, I would be ahead. There was also some internal chatter, which made me judge the module (arrgh, how hard can this be? ) and I wasn’t opening up to the learnings too. Hmmm…. this got me! This is exactly how a client could be responding to their coaching session and the coach’s mindset or presence at the coaching session.

In sequence, failing to do all of the above effectively, paraphrasing and powerful questions cannot take place. It would end up breaking trust and rapport, jeopardizing the coaching moment and eventually the entire process.

The move from the previous terminology of Active Listening (as a noun) to Listens Actively (as a verb), moves the context of this competency from a static notion to an act of practice and doing.

According to ICF, the definition of Listens Actively is focuses on what the client is and is not saying to fully understand what is being communicated in the context of the client systems and to support client self-expression.

The focus is not only in the words that are being articulated, but to observe the entire context of the client, non verbal, tone of voice, and supporting the client to allow space for self-expression. As mentioned in the tutorial, to also listen with the eyes and the heart. The below sub-competencies illustrates further the attitude, skills and knowledge that is needed to master this competency.

  1. Considers the client’s context, identity, environment, experiences, values and beliefs to enhance understanding of what the client is communicating.
    • The coach needs to find that space of understanding from the view of the client, connect the dots of what is being said to the current situation of the client, perhaps even relating it to some significant events that could be impacting the client’s state.
  2. Reflects or summarizes what the client communicated to ensure clarity and understanding.
    • Catching and paraphrasing to ensure that similar understanding of the message or responses. One man’s word is another’s silence, for that matter.
  3. Recognizes and inquires when there is more to what the client is communicating.
  4. Notices, acknowledges and explores the client’s emotions, energy shifts, non-verbal cues or other behaviors.
    • For no. 3 & no. 4: Listen to intuition when you feel that there is a shift in focus, or energy of the client. Perhaps, something deeper has been tapped into or a past unresolved situation has sparked some emotion that is blocking progress.
  5. Integrates the client’s words, tone of voice and body language to determine the full meaning of what is being communicated.
    • Decoding further when there are contradicting messages, or look out for moments of deeper thoughts that the client is about to reveal. Allow space for client to share more.
  6. Notices trends in the client’s behaviors and emotions across sessions to discern themes and patterns.
    • Assess the messages or communication process in totality, not just as per session. For example, is the client always late for the coaching session, citing back-to-back meetings, this could be an indicator that the client could be overworked, workaholic, need to feel important, or has simple poor time management. Judge not, but check for thoughts, emotions, and actions when addressed. This will give some hints to what are the needs and drivers for this client too.

I believe the Chinese Character for Listening is ‘Ting’ and comprised of 6 other characters – you, eyes, undivided attention, heart, ear, and king – showcases listens actively succinctly.

  • You – YOU have to fully present and listening.
  • Eyes – Observe everything, non-verbal, body language, context, situations.
  • Undivided attention – Be present, appreciate what is being shared, paraphrase.
  • Heart – Feel what is being said, allow space for emotion, and self-expression. No judgement.
  • Ear – Words have so many different meanings, what is the client trying to share.
  • King – The client is the King here, respect, rapport and trust is royally important.

To conclude, I couldn’t help but notice, that the foundational words of ‘Ting’ as above, are heart and king, in which when we as coaches listen actively, we look beyond eyes and ears but into the heart of the message and the client as well as we need to empower that the client as the king of his/her message in his/her perception & expression.

Published by Shereen Kaur

Coach, Consultant, Wellness Advocate, Artist, Mom

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