Coaching Tools, Part 3 – effective listening skills

The ability to listen, not just hear but listen and absorb what is being said is one of the most important skills a coach can master. We are not natural listeners, during a conversation most people are already working out what they are going to say in response; they’re not really listening, they are just hearing.

As a coach it is vital not to go into a session with your own issues that you are trying to deal with. These need to be left outside or you will not be effective.

Prepare yourself. Employ a technique that works for you to clear your mind, a quiet walk, a few minutes of silent meditation, whatever it takes to concentrate your focus on your client. They need to know that you are truly listening to them. It may be that for the first time in their lives someone actually cares enough to let them express their thoughts.

During a coaching session you may find some of your client’s beliefs challenging to your own and it’s a mistake to try to influence these beliefs and aim to align them more with your own by asking questions or guiding your client to an area which sits more comfortably with your own view of the world. Your own beliefs and views are not relevant when it comes to coaching your client even if you recognise what they are describing and can relate to the situation. If you do this then you will almost certainly have closed your mind to what is being said because you are sure you know the outcome based on your own circumstances. The truth however is that everyone sees the same situation differently. By thinking that you know the answer you are not listening to what is being said.

There are three levels of listening:

Level one, is internal listening. This is listening in an everyday situation and it focuses on you rather than the other person. It’s how you interpret a conversation and it’s meaning to you and would be relevant to organising the next appointment with your client or how much your shopping comes to in the supermarket. Getting information on all manner of things that relate to you. This is not the main level you would use for a coaching session.

Level two is where the focus is on the speaker. This is why at the start of the session you need to clear your own mind, so that you can fully engage with your client. It’s not just the words they say, but importantly how they are said. Is there an energy to the words or is it slow and unemotional? What is their body language telling you as they speak, is that telling a different story to the words? What can you learn from the pauses and how are they responding to your questions and clarification of what they have said?

Being aware of all these nuances will help you to gain a viewpoint to the way your client is responding and for the client to feel valued and understood.

Level two listening is all about the speaker, and this is the zone that a coach needs to be in for a successful session.

Level three listening can be termed as holistic listening. Again the focus is on the speaker, however as a coach you are taking in the big picture. The what’s not said, it is intuitive listening. Using your senses to discern what is happening in the world around your client. Picking up on signals that you neither see or hear, but you can feel! It’s not widely used, but being aware of it and gaining experience through it’s use, can be a valuable asset.

For a coaching session level two listening would be the main level ensuring that level three listening is used also. Level one is useful at the start and finish of each session to clarify detail and actions.

A coach will respect what the client is saying because it is important to them that you are genuinely interested. By showing empathy not sympathy, the client understands that you understand and that they know you care, the conversation will not be superficial and they will open up to allow positive progress. Understand and appreciate their world, but do not enter it!

Clarifying what is being said, through questioning to find out what the client wants to achieve. They may not know this themselves at the beginning but getting them to clarify their thoughts helps the speaker to define their direction and ultimately their goals.

Articulating back to the client what they have shared helps them to understand what it is they have actually said and whether there is something that they have been unwilling to face in the past. Reflecting on what’s been said allows both coach and client to understand and agree a way forward.

Make sure that you know where you are in relation to the client’s goal. If you feel that you are going off in the wrong direction, then find the right moment to ask a question such as “where are we in relation to your goal?”

Be aware of silences, these should be natural and a time to reflect on what’s just been said. If the client pauses don’t jump in with a question or observation, they may only have paused to bring something else to the surface and you have just interrupted their train of thought. Remember the three second rule!

Listening is a key skill to having a successful coaching outcome. The client must feel that you care and that they are important and very rarely will anyone genuinely listen as attentively to what really matters to them as their coach does.

Time to get your own coach or brush up your own coaching skills? Contact Liz Kentish, The FM Coach on Tel: 01778 561326 / 07717 870777 or email:

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