Understanding the listening process in Coaching

When was the last time that you considered your coach’s listening ability? This article explores listening and considers when we listen, to what are we paying attention? Many writers talk of the different levels of listening and four key ones can be summarised as follows:

1. Cosmetic listening - your mind is off elsewhere, and you are acting ‘as if’ you are listening. With an increasing use of mobile phones and other technology, we can often be distracted when we are with others and end up not really listening at all.

2. Conversational listening - you are engaged in the conversation and there is a rhythm to it which can take the form of listening, talking, thinking, listening, talking etc.

3. Active listening - you are very interested in what the other person is saying and focus on the words. You are demonstrating the ‘signs’ of effective listening, e.g. recording facts, staying attuned, paraphrasing and reflecting back. There is evidence of you having listened from the way you can use listening techniques in order to recall and summarise what has been said by the other person. 

4. Deep listening - you are listening to the other person in a much more empathic way. You hear both the content of the words and you are also aware of how they might feel and how they make you feel.  You may notice more non-verbal signals like tone of voice, use of hands and the emotions associated with the words. At this level, you can step into another’s shoes, experience their reality and show that understanding in how you respond.

Coaches can feel the pressure to move at speed. They therefore interrupt and perhaps give advice. At some level, they may tune into the wider organisational system and spot that credit is given to the person talking, rather than the credit given to those who listen well and use their insights empathically.  It is easy, as a coach, to get caught up in showing what you know and not leaving enough space for the client to explore. 

Choosing your life coach

As part of your selection of your coach, ask them how they listen to what is going on at a deeper level within them. There is a parallel process at work here. If your coach notices what is going on for them, then they are much more likely to notice what happens in another person’s emotional world.

Unconscious dynamics still play out in coaching conversations and can get in the way of how a coach might listen. If, for instance, a coach does not like conflict, then how do they allow another to disagree and hear their reasoning? How do they learn what frustrates the other person? Without expression, these feelings do not go away but can build and come out in much more damaging ways in the future.

If you want the coaching process to increase self-awareness and ensure effective personal development then listening at a deeper level is the entry point. Both coaches and their clients need to start by understanding themselves, and all the contradictions that make them unique, as this is essential pre-work to listening at a deeper level. It is only once we listen to ourselves at a deeper level, that we can listen deeply to others.

Some ideas for how to listen at a deeper level

  • Deepen your own self-awareness so that you start to recognise your own beliefs and patterns of behaviour that impacts on others. We are shaped by the echoes of our past and it is important to stop and understand what continues to reverberate within you. Notice your reactions to people and events, particularly those that are unhelpful and operate on an auto-pilot and challenge these unhelpful reactions.

  • In a world which is increasingly full of noise and distraction, be aware of that and cultivate time and space for yourself, where you can achieve some cognitive quiet so that you can hear yourself think. It is good to spend time in the natural world so as to connect to your own human nature. When you have space to reflect, then insights can emerge.

  • Work with someone you trust, or perhaps a coach (or for a coach, a supervisor) to surface some of the patterns in your thinking that may be holding you back e.g. like the need to be right or not feeling good enough. These may be a sign of insecurity.

  • Give space to people accessing their own ideas first in order to understand where they are coming from. A lot of the time, people are not comfortable with silence, but it gives the speaker thinking time to work through an issue or idea. Get comfortable with silence and practice using it and experiencing it from someone else.

  • Spot the non-verbal cues from the person with whom you are working and consider what they might mean. Also, consider your tone of voice and language used. Pay attention to metaphors, as they are often used to convey lots of information in a simple way.   

  • Finally, a small but important point is to understand how you look when you are listening (check it out in a mirror if you are unsure), to understand the other person’s perspective. Does your expression show interest and respect? If not, then consider what needs to change. Ensure appropriate eye contact to show interest and connection. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, PE28
Written by Margaret Walsh, MNLP, Executive Coach & Coach Supervisor
Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, PE28

Margaret Walsh works as a coach/psychotherapist and coaching and counselling supervisor, both face-to-face and over Skype. She is also running several workshops that cover core skills to grow self-awareness, like listening skills which involve working in nature in the beautiful grounds of Newnham College, University of Cambridge.

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