One of the most respectful and powerful coaching skills we have available to us as coaches is the ability to listen. Just listen. Listen with a lot of silence, and with a lot of quiet, yet present, spaciousness. Do you know how rare that is in our lives?
Yes, you probably do, if you are like the majority of people on the planet. Most people only listen long enough to turn the attention and conversation to themselves, to demonstrate their knowledge, or because they get so excited they interrupt to give their point of view.
Listening with the intent to understand is very different than listening long enough to give your thoughts or opinion.
It’s often considered relational when you jump in and finish someone’s sentence for them. The belief is, “I know them so well I know what they’re thinking, or about to say next.” That may be okay if you are in relationship with someone with a mutual agreement that doing so works for both of you. But as coaches, it’s a bad habit to have.
The ICF Core Competency of Active Listening definition is, “Ability to focus completely on what the client is saying and is not saying, to understand the meaning of what is said in the context of the client’s desires, and to support client self-awareness.”
The act of listening presently, attentively and spaciously to the whole person of your client IS the coaching skill to master, not the act of listening for how to help the client to solve their ‘problem.’
To focus completely on what the client is saying and is not saying requires our full presence, and suspending judgment based on our beliefs and experiences. The antidote to wanting to help and solve the client’s problems for them is to listen spaciously, as a curious observer.
To listen spaciously means you listen with even more space than you feel comfortable. I define space as being silent yet fully present. Silent means not adding in small words and sounds as the client speaks such as, “Hmmmph. Yeah. Okay. Right. All right. Got it. Aaahhh.” These take away from the space and silence the client can be using to engage in their own thinking. Oftentimes using small words and sounds is a way for the coach to control the coaching session, and that’s another habit to give up.
With spacious, present listening, the coach is quieting their mind to hear the words the client is saying. Yet there’s much more that you can hear when you are listening spaciously.
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Listen for what the client isn’t saying
If you are so intent on listening to the words and trying to solve the client’s problem you will miss the subtle communication that is below the surface. Listen for energy shifts, emotions present, and shifts in tone and pace. For example, if the client sighs, it could be more powerful to say, “What was that sigh about?” than to ignore that sigh and ask a logical question based on the words you heard the client say.
Spacious listening also means being ‘presently quiet’ for longer than you normally would. When you allow more space that you don’t fill with words and sounds, the client is likely to access more of their self-knowledge and have to dig deeper inside themselves.
That is where the real gift of coaching lies; in connecting the client more deeply to their self-knowledge, and then seeing what else they might need in order to accomplish what they are seeking.
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Spacious listening aligns with the core competency of Coaching Presence. Because you are being silent, spacious and a curious observer to the whole person of the client, you are more likely to hear your intuition or gut responses.
For example, you are being spacious and silent and you notice the client’s voice is getting lower in tone and sounds emotional. So you might ask a completely different question than you would have if you weren’t sensing the subtle emotion present/ (e.g. “I notice your voice tone just went down. I wonder what emotion you might be feeling as you talk about that?”) Remember, it’s 99.9% likely to be more powerful for the client when their coach notices the human being of their client (the Who), than being focused on solving their problem for them (the What).
Carly Anderson and Karen Boskemper offer an awesome mentor coaching group and individual program that has many exclusive offerings for our participants.
One of those offerings is an extensive library of MCC, PCC and ACC coaching sessions for our participants to listen to, evaluate, debrief, and learn from, along with The Target Approach to demystifying the ICF core competencies. These are incredibly valuable learning tools, and will accelerate your understanding of competency distinctions.
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