The skill of listening is the foundation of being an effective coach. If you don’t listen, you don’t have anything to work with as a coach. Listening is truly the beginning point.
I have conducted dozens of coach training workshops and the feedback I get from participants is that they thought they knew all there was to know about listening and that they had discounted the value of listening to help others. Additionally, many people admitted to struggling with the skill and voiced a need to improve.
So what is listening? You’ve no doubt heard of the two major listening modes, Passive and Active. Passive is the listening you do while your mind and body are elsewhere. When you use this type of listening mode, people usually see it and don’t feel you are listening fully. They feel devalued. Passive listening is listening intently and giving appropriate eye contact and body language to represent your interest and understanding. Of course, we want to do as much active listening as possible.
Allow me to introduce you to another type of listening that coaches use. For lack of a more technical term, I call it “Deep Listening.” Deep Listening is when a person actually enters the listening activity with a mind-set to hear beyond the words. A coach that listens deeply is looking to listen between the lines, if you will. Deep listening encourages more curiosity on behalf of the coach and prompts discovery questions. Here are 4 ways to listen deeply.
1. Listen for words that give clues. This is when a coach listens for words that don’t fit with the sentence, are possible over-statements, or are highly emotional. These words give clues that the person may be confused, is misunderstanding the situation, or needs to process certain aspects of their current beliefs.
2. Avoid getting lost in your own thoughts. This takes intention and a lot of practice. First you have to commit to being a coach for a certain amount of time. You might say, “Ok, I’m giving this person 10 minutes of my undivided attention. You are deciding to move your mind away from your own agenda and thoughts. Second, I use a trigger. When I find myself thinking about myself, I use this as a trigger to remind myself to move my focus back to the other person. At first you will remember after some time within your own thoughts of yourself, but the more you do this the quicker you will catch yourself.
3. Avoid making assumptions. Our human nature wants to fill in the gaps of what we don’t see or understand. Couple this with the fact that we have our own set of experiences and opinions and you get assumptions. Assumptions are ideas we believe are true without evidence that support the idea as fact. As coaches, we have to avoid assuming we always know the right answer or what the person should do in a situation. While we might often know the answer, we must use our other coaching skills to help the person develop themselves by finding their way.
4. Use Silence. Many of us fear the dreaded “dead-spots” of conversations. There is no doubt silence is an important part of coaching. Not only does it give a person time to think and respond, it also prompts the person to think for themselves. Challenge yourself to use silence during meetings and conversations. Start with smaller amounts of silence times and work your way to longer moments. This is a great way to display you confidence as a coach and leader.
Listening supports the next coaching skill I’ll cover in my next blog post, Questioning.
If you have a technique you use to listen well please share by leaving a comment or emailing me.