One of the challenges in today’s always connected and always communicating world is that everyone is talking, but few people are listening. Even going to a friend or family member for a conversation often ends in the listener making assumptions about the problem and providing advice, which is not the same as really listening to the challenges, concerns, and issues you are facing.
Working with a coach is a very different experience. Coaches are focused on really listening to what their clients are saying, and to pick up on what is not being said in the conversation. Some coaches call this listening in between the words, as sometimes the silences and the lack of answer to a question speaks volumes.
The Listening Process
In an executive or leadership coaching session, the coach asks questions to assist the coachee (client) in delving deeper into the issue. This is essential in helping clients to explore their options, to determine the pros and cons of choices, and then make the right decision on a personal level.
It is also essential to help clients to set personal and professional goals that are meaningful and relevant, and that provide the positive changes the client is trying to achieve.
Active or deep listening is a skill, and it requires the coach to be open to hearing all the information the client is providing in the verbal answer. At the same time, the coach is attuned to changes in body language, facial expressions, and voice, while also listening for those gaps or areas of silence that may signal uncertainty, ambiguity, or a disconnect between the verbal message and the internal feelings and beliefs.
Listening for issues and beliefs that may be limiting the client’s ability to achieve their goals, or drawing attention to the disconnects noted between body language and the verbal message, allows the client to drill down deeper and discover the source of these issues.
For example, if a client became very animated about talking about something that happened, the coach might note, “I noticed you become very excited about this new project, what about this is inspiring?”, or “This is something you feel very positive about, why is this important to you?”.
The same is true for honest feedback about inconsistencies. A coach can point this out in a non-judgmental statement, allowing the client to understand where these inconsistencies occur and exploring how they may be blocking the option to move forward with goals and objectives.
Listening is a critical tool for effective coaching. It is also a skill that many in leadership roles focus on in professional development to be more effective in working with their teams.