Abintus Coaching Resources

One of the most important skills for a coach is the ability to listen, meaningfully hearing the client and what they are saying. People generally, don’t listen very well, as we are never taught to listen effectively. Coaches who truly listen have a huge impact upon their coachees and the coaching relationship. Being an effective listener doesn’t just happen though, it needs to be developed and honed.

Importance of good listening

A coach who listens effectively brings a lot to the coachee and their working together.

  • Shows that the coach is present with the client.
  • Demonstrates that the coach has fully heard and understood the coachee, on their terms. Where they are at, how they are thinking and feeling. Where they want and need to be.
  • Develops the coaching rapport and relationship.
  • Enables trust, honesty and openness to come from the coachee.
  • Demonstrates empathy with the clients situation and emotions.
  • Reaffirms what the coachee is saying is important and of value.

Clients need to feel listened to if they are to fully open up and share with the coach. They only know that they have been listened to by the actions of the coach after they have finished speaking.

What hinders a coach’s ability to listen?

There are multiple factors hindering the coach’s ability to listen effectively including:

  • Environmental noise and distractions.
  • The coach’s focus on their own needs, agenda, and emotions.
  • Thinking about the next questions they want to ask.
  • Talking too much in the session
  • Not prepared for the coaching session, mentally, emotionally and practically
  • Internal judgements and assumptions made about the coachee by the coach. Or the coach’s own biases coming into play.

What makes up listening as a coach?

Listening is about much more than hearing words.

It’s hearing the emotions and thoughts behind the words. Hearing what they are not saying. Observing what the coachee’s body language is telling the coach. Similarly, is there congruence between what they are saying and what the body language is saying?

Also, understanding the client’s present situation, their thoughts and feelings around this. Listening to who they are as a person – what makes them tick, values and beliefs, thoughts and feelings. Also, listening to who the person actually is and what they represent.

Therefore, the coach has to be quiet to be able to listen. Observing, replaying, clarifying and reflecting to gain an accurate understanding of the coachee and what they are saying.

Finally, the coach has to realise why they are listening. Are they listening to simply respond to what they are being told, or, are they listening to understand the coachee? The difference is critical and impacts on how the coach behaves.

How does a coach REALLY listen?

Listening is a muscle which needs to be stretched and developed. A skill to be honed and perfected. A ‘mature coach’ asks very few questions, instead they listen deeply so that the few questions they use are well tuned and directed to what the coachee is saying. To listening well, takes practice, every day.

  • Be present and intend to listen. Meaningfully listening with them experiencing that you are listening.
  • Park your ‘stuff’. Arrive ready to listen. Leave work notebooks, phones and previous work conversations ‘at the door’.
  • Ask short questions to gain clarity in what they are talking about.
  • Play back the words they use. This is powerful. People use words often for a (subconscious) reason. Using EXACTLY their words is important, not your own spin on them. Doing this is the only way the coachee gets to hear their own words and gestures.
  • Be positive and encouraging using cue phrases – ‘what else?’, or ‘tell me more’, or ‘anything else’.
  • Acknowledge what the coachee has just said to you
  • Identify and share what you observe when they speaking. What is happening with their body language as they speak?
  • Use body language to get you in the frame of mind to listen and show them. Nodding, leaning forward, smiling, giving them your undivided attention.
  • Give them space. Pounding the coachee with multiple questions is not helpful. Use silence to give them space to think and process. If not responding after this, ask them what they are thinking about.
  • Summarise they have shared with you. Don’t over use. Multiple summaries are about you as coach and your needs, not the coachee.
  • Make written notes to help you in the moment. You can also reflect on these later. Making notes is ok, just don’t try and capture everything verbatim!

Listen with the intention to repeat and reflect what is said. The coach will be listens to be able to make sense of what the client is saying. Or ask questions to get absolute clarity. In addition, listen learn something new about the coachee. Then, sharing this with them to aid more learning for the coachee.

Its not just about what they say…

Listening as you have seen already is not just about hearing the words, other things come into play too:

  • Observe them. What are they doing with their hands and feet? Where are they looking? What are they looking at?
  • How are they sitting? Does their posture shift?
  • How present do they appear?
  • Does their tone, pitch, volume and pace alter at all?
  • Listen for messages that might lie in what they are saying.
  • Are there shifts in how the coachee breathes and the time they take to respond?
  • What emotions does the coachee appear to present to you?
  • What are they not sharing with you? Is it appropriate to share this and see where it leads?

Things to avoid…

There a lot of positive approaches a coach can use to listen well. However, there are also some no go areas, and these can adversely affect impact the coachee and the relationship.

Don’t listen to try and fix things (or the client!). Instead, learn to listen to and coach the person rather than trying to fix things.

Too much talking by the coach can reflect their own insecurities. If the coach is talking, they aren’t listening. No coach can multi task!

Paraphasing. There are different schools of thought about using this. The risk by paraphrasing is that the coach can put their own interpretation on what the client has just said. This risks bringing in lines of thought for the coachee which aren’t helpful, or bring in doubt. For example – Client ‘I sometimes struggle working with Steve on the project…‘ Coach – ‘So you don’t like working with Steve on the project…‘ No, the client simply sometime struggles to work with Steve on the project. The coach can always ask clarifying questions to understand the reasons more, if appropriate.

Avoid focusing on what you need to do and your coaching process. The coachee will recognise changes in your body language.

Similarly, don’t jump in. By pacing yourself and allowing the client the space to think more will come out in the session.

In conclusion, developing a listening habit the coach opens up a world of possibilities for the client and the relationship. Above all, the quality of the coaching conversation and the outcomes and actions will improve. Additionally, the coach’s everyday listening skills will add value to all the workplace conversations they have.