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Coaching Skills: Listening

This lesson is a part of an audio course Coaching Skills for Managers by Karina Margole

Listening is one of the fundamental skills in coaching and in life. Your role within a coaching conversation is to help the person in front of you gain clarity and figure out how to move forward. In order to do that, you must be able to listen to them on a very deep level. And not just so that you can understand what they are trying to say.

Being really heard can help someone feel acknowledged and supported. The person who has really been listened to will lower their defences and open up themselves and their thinking. They can enter a state of high creativity, which will help them find a better solution to their problem.

Another aspect of coaching is around giving feedback to the person being coached. It's about reflecting back on what the coachee is saying to help them better understand themselves. And in order to do that effectively, the coach needs to be able to listen well.

There are 3 levels of listening.

Level 1 is internal listening. This is when you are listening to the other person, and your head is full of your own chatter. Maybe you are preparing your own reply to what the other person is saying. Or maybe you have something else on your mind. You are primarily focused on your own reactions to what the other person is saying. This level of listening is where most of us listen from in our everyday life, and it's not very helpful in a coaching conversation.

Level 2 listening is focused on the other person. It's when you are focusing on what that other person is saying. You are focused on the words being said. You are able to ask questions that are relevant to what the coachee is saying. You are in the conversation for the coachee and not for your own mental chatter. This is the level of listening that is great for coaching.

Level 3 listening is the deeper level of listening. It is when you are not just aware of what your coachee is saying, but you are also aware of their energy levels, their emotional state, what is not being said, their body language. You are able to take in the bigger picture of the coachee's state and note all the other aspects that might be affecting the coachee in the present moment. Listening from this level allows you to coach better. It allows you to provide better feedback and ask more powerful questions. And with that, help your coachee get greater results.

Listening in levels 2 and 3 is difficult and requires practice. Most of us listen in Level 1 in our day to day lives. Fortunately, you can practice level 2 and level 3 listening in your day to day life. Next time someone comes to you with a problem or just to have a chat, try and focus on what they are saying, rather than immediately jumping into solving the problem or giving your opinion. And once you practice getting into Level 2 listening, start paying attention to the whole person. Their body language, facial expressions, energy levels, breathing. All these things give you a better picture of not only what the person is saying but what they are feeling and experiencing. And that is valuable information for you as a coach.

How do you show the coachee that you have been listening to? When the person you are coaching has done talking about what they were talking about, you can do a brief summary of the most important thing they were just talking about. Keep it brief, to the point, and use the words they were using.

Playing back to what the person has said to you can create an awareness in the person that they didn't have before. Often times we can be talking but not hearing what we are saying ourselves. So giving them back in a concise form what they just said, using their own words, can create really powerful insights.

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Written by

Karina Margole