Are you listening to me?
If they’re not listening, they can’t ask the right questions at the right time. If they can’t ask the right questions, they won’t be able to help their coachees to:
- explore their goal area as thoroughly as needed
- deal with, and resolve, any blockages to moving forward
- consider their options and choose the most useful/appropriate one
- and ultimately … achieve their goals! (Sometimes the goal they set out to work on isn’t always the one that’s most appropriate, so they change it … which is often down to the coach listening and asking the right questions!)
But there’s listening and there’s listening!
I’m a big fan of Julie Starr’s 4 levels of listening. Here’s an overview of each one.
Cosmetic listening – I’m not really listening to you, my mind is elsewhere, although I’m making the right noises and ‘pretending’ to listen!
Conversational listening – I’m listening to your words and thinking about what you’re saying. I’m also thinking about what I want to say back, and then saying it. I may not be totally focused on you, as I’m thinking about what I want to say / which points I want to get across.
Active listening – I’m focused on you, what you’re saying, and asking questions to increase my understanding. I’m using more effort than I would in conversational listening. I might be making notes (mental or written) of things I want to ask you about, but I don’t want to interrupt you right now. You’ll also know I’m listening because I will have good eye contact and will be making appropriate gestures/nods. I might also repeat back what you’ve said, summarise and make observations.
Deep listening – I’m doing more than actively listening … I’m listening so much to you that I have little awareness of myself! I’m totally focused on you, my mind is not easily distracted. I’m listening so intently, and understanding what you’re saying, that I’m even picking up on what you’re not saying. I’m able to use this to ask you that great question just at the right time, or make that intuitive observation that will result in what coachees sometimes refer to as the ‘lightbulb moment’ … things are suddenly clearer, or a useful solution presents itself.
As a coach, I aim for going into a coaching session in ‘Active listening’ mode and then move into ‘Deep listening’ as we progress into the session. Quite often I’m successful in this aim … Nevertheless, it’s useful to remember here that coaches are not infallible! We are human and despite best intentions occasionally we can have distracting thoughts. For example:
“That loud noise I just heard outside, I hope no-one was hurt”
“It’s quite cold in here, I don’t want to say anything incase it distracts the coachee”
“That last comment reminds me I must remember to send a birthday card to ______ this weekend”
These thoughts don’t all come at once … they seem to pop into your head when you least expect or want them to! But the trick here for coaches is to briefly acknowledge them, then let them go and tune immediately back into what the coachee is saying.
I also think it’s worth acknowledging with the coachee that you’ve been distracted and you missed what they’ve just said, rather than pretend you heard them and risk asking a question that is totally unhelpful to the coachee, or clearly shows you haven’t been listening …. as long as this doesn’t happen often! When you don’t listen at an active or deep level, as a coach, you risk partial or total loss of rapport between you and your coachee.
I often find it helps to get myself mentally prepared for a coaching session, by just grabbing a few minutes beforehand to focus on clearing my mind of any ‘stuff’ that may have happened recently which could take my attention away from my coachee.
So how well do you listen, and are you using the right level of listening for the right situation?
I’m Debbie Inglis, a performance coach, mentor and trainer, working with Heads, Principals, School leaders and their teams to maximise leadership performance, create more effective, confident, and motivated teams … in a way that brings out the best in you.