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Active Listening: A Series of Articles on the Art and Science of Listening

Each of us comes to coaching with some ability to listen. In fact, this might be one of many reasons we are attracted to this profession: We enjoy listening and think we are good at it.

To develop fully as a coach requires us to expand our current ability to listen; we must become what the ICF refers to as an active listener. The depth and scope of the ability to listen deeply, globally and actively is an integral measure of a great coach. As Epictetus said, "We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak."

In this series of articles, we are going to be discussing active listening and practical ways we can become better listeners as coaches and leaders. Active listening is a crucial element in effective coaching and employee development. It is integral to our being able to create trust such that the person we are coaching is willing to be open. Coaching in its purest form is not about telling the client the solution. Rather, we serve as the catalyst to help our clients forward their own thinking. When we listen from this vantage point, with presence, we do not have a pre-determined idea for how the client should behave or where the conversation should go. We trust our client to reach their own conclusion. In effect, effective leadership is effective listening. As Lee Iacocca, author of Where Have All the Leaders Gone?, put it. "Business people need to listen at least as much as they need to talk. Too many people fail to realize that real communication goes in both directions." Research has found that by listening effectively, you will:

  • get more information from the people you manage

  • increase others' trust in you

  • reduce conflict

  • better understand how to motivate others

  • inspire a higher level of commitment in the people you manage

Listening to someone well can change their life. Most people seldom experience this kind of close attention. According to Co-Active Coaching, "To be listened to is a striking experience, partly because it is so rare. When another person is totally with you - leaning in, interested in every word, eager to empathize-you feel known and understood. People open up when they know they are being listened to; they expand; they have more presence. They feel safer and more secure as well, and trust grows. This is why listening is so important to coaching." In future articles, we will discuss several different listening perspectives, the phases of listening and ways to overcome impediments to listening. In the meantime, ponder:

An open ear is the only believable sign of an open heart.

Professor David Augsberger

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