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Active Listening: Listening Perspectives

In my previous article, I established that the depth and scope of the ability to listen deeply, globally and actively is an integral measure of a great coach. In this article, I want to discuss how we can listen to be most effective. Listening has great power. It is important to know why we are listening, what we are listening for, and how best to listen.

Listen for Energy. One of the reasons it is very important to be fully present when we listen is so we can sense the energy of the person with whom we are conversing. We take notice of more than just words. According to research by Dr. Albert Mehrabian, only 7% of communication is conveyed through words. Listen for the tone of voice, pace, and body language. What does that convey?

Listen for the essence of what is being said. What is the core of what they are communicating? Test your assumption by reflecting back to them what you think you heard. Reflecting back, in and of itself, can spark an insight for the client. When they hear things from your particular brain mapping, it is in essence asking their brain to compare and contrast what they conveyed with what you heard. In this process can lie an insight.

Listen with curiosity as it leads to asking open, evocative questions. Thinking you are an expert can all too easily lead to asking leading questions or telling someone what to do. Asking questions fueled by curiosity rather than expertise on subject matter forces the client’s brain to think through the issue for themselves which is sure to propel movement forward.

Listen without judgment. Create a judgment-free zone, so that your client is free to express things that feel risky to say. Imagine the power of a conversation where the previously un-utterable can be said and worked on. Saying “I need help with this” or “I don't know how to make that happen” requires that someone feels safe. If you want trust-based vulnerability from those you are coaching, you have to create a safe environment conducive to being authentic and taking risk. Trust-based vulnerability can only survive in a judgment-free zone.

Listen for what is not said. What isn’t said can be just as important as what is. What information is the person leaving out? Do you feel they have skipped over something? Take a risk, and with permission, mention what you sense without any attachment to being right. Perhaps, ask if there may be something more to explore. If there is not, no harm done. But if there is, you have hit pay dirt in terms of getting to what is real and deep and demonstrating your commitment to their growth.

Listen at the highest levels. As coaches we risk getting caught up in details as a typical client’s brain gravitates to details, problems and drama. In fact, 85% of conversations occur at this level of focus, which may be interesting to discuss over a cocktail but not useful in a coaching or development conversation. New thinking is not found in the details of a situation. So while details add color, they don't help you in your quest for facilitating insight. Keep your listening focused on how they are thinking, what they are feeling, and what their vision is. This will help you ask powerful questions that lead to insight.

In my next article, I will discuss a final listening perspective: how to listen for a client’s potential. Until then, ponder:

Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but we don't have to do anything else. We don't have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen.

Margaret J. Wheatley

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