Our next #educoachOC chat will focus on listening in a coaching context. Alongside other key coaching skills such as questioning, clarifying and empathising, the way we listen and engage with the coachee – with our ears, gestures and eyes – is perhaps the most fundamentally important factor in building the trust required for coaching to be effective.
Listening in everyday conversation can be very different from listening in coaching. We all know people who are poor listeners and we recognise the signs when we do not have someones full attention. There may be a clicking of a keyboard at the other end of the phone, or a TV program playing in the background, or a lack of response or nonsensical answer when you’ve asked a question. When the conversation is face to face we can see this lack of attention to what we are saying in the lack of eye contact, body language and expression. We can also detect this in the way the other person responds to what we are saying. This superficial or cosmetic listening (Starr, 2011) does nothing to build a relationship and the conversation is unlikely to last long or leave either party feeling particularly good about the interaction. A step up from this is conversational listening – a more satisfying and natural back and forth flow of dialogue where both parties appear to be fully engaged – the kind of conversation you might have with a friend or an acquaintance at a social gathering. The listening here tends to be listening to respond or listening to form one’s own understanding of what is being said. Often we are waiting for the opportunity to put forward our own view or experience and the conversation often ends up a long way from where it began. [Personally, as a fairly introverted individual in social circumstances, I’ve had to work on this kind of conversation. I once heard the advice: “be more interested than interesting”. I can’t remember who said it but I later found this article on the subject.]
So how does listening in these normal social interactions differ from listening in coaching? In a coaching conversation it is about listening for the coachee’s benefit rather than our own. We are not listening to contribute our viewpoint to the conversation, we are listening actively in order to respond in a way that encourages the coachee to think more deeply and talk more openly (van Nieuwerburgh, 2014, p.26). It should be no surprise that van Nieuwerburgh, in An Introduction to Coaching Skills (2014), deals with “listening to encourage thinking” before any other coaching skill, and Knight, in Better Conversations (2016), presents a chapter on “listening with empathy” after first considering our beliefs about conversation.
Active listening should be the baseline level of listening in a coaching conversation and the very best coaches are able to take this to a deeper level. This deep listening level is a level where the coach moves beyond consciously managing their own listening behaviours. They are fully present for the coachee and much more attuned to the emotions and non-verbal communication of the coachee in order to get a better sense of what’s making them “tick”.
So what’s clearer now, about listening in a coaching context? What questions do you have? We hope that you will join us to tease out the nuances of listening in a coaching context and no doubt to explore the overlap with other aspects of coaching practice.
This month we’ve crowd-sourced the chat questions on Twitter. There were some great questions and common themes so we’ve tried to cover these in the following five questions for the chat:
Q1 How does listening within coaching differ from listening in normal conversation?
Q2 What are the signs that a coach is listening deeply to the coachee?
Q3 What does the coach do with what they hear in the coaching conversation?
Q4 We all need to vent sometimes. What is the value in listening to a coachee venting in a coaching context and how can it be turned into something productive?
Q5 What knowledge, skills and beliefs are required for effective listening in coaching?
If your specific question hasn’t been covered here, feel free to ask it in the comments under this post or just pose it to the #educoachOC community at any time.
The chat will be held on Monday 6th June at 8.30pm AEST. That’s 6.30am in New York, 11.30am in London, 6.30pm in Perth and Singapore, 7.30pm in Brisbane, and 8.30pm in Sydney and Melbourne.
Knight, J. (2016). Better Conversations: Coaching Ourselves and Each Other to be More Credible, Caring, and Connected. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Starr, J. (2011). The Coaching Manual: The Definitive Guide to the Process, Principles and Skills of Personal Coaching. Harlow, UK: Pearson.
van Nieuwerburgh, C. (2014). An Introduction to Coaching Skills: A Practical Guide. London: Sage.
Helpful book companion site sections on listening: