By Fran McElhone | Jan 25, 2022
Most of us overestimate our skills as a listener. Listening well is an acquired skill and one which must be constantly reinforced.
Effective listening skills are central to wider coaching skills for leaders and managers and for coaching employees to improve performance.
What is the importance of listening skills in coaching?
We can start to answer this question by looking at what we are doing when we listen as a coach and address two further questions: what is listening for? And, what is it not for?
What effective listening skills are for :
To give the coachee the floor: for many coachees, this is what they value most; the space to go inward and rediscover what they really think and feel.
To reflect the coachee back to themselves: this is another vital function; as coaches, a major part of our role is to help coachees become observers of themselves.
To pick up on clients’ moods, emotions, and concerns: when coachees talk about what’s concerning them, they are often describing symptoms of a broader problem. Listening to moods and emotions can help identify the source.
To allow us to notice hesitations, uncertainty, and inconsistencies: we can choose to draw the coachee’s attention to these and thereby help them gain greater clarity about their situation and what they really want to change.
To allow us to notice our reactions: our own reactions can provide valuable indicators. If we feel moved by a coachee, for instance, this is often a sign that something significant is opening up.
To give us clues as to whether the coachee is a good listener: we get a sense of whether they are fully engaged in the coaching conversation, or being selective, listening only to what they want to hear.
What effective listening skills are not for:
To gather information (see second point above): Some coaches listen so they can get all the facts with a view to finding a solution; this means that the focus is on them and what they understand, rather than on the coachee.
To be able to produce a solution: problem-solving is more fruitful once the coachee feels truly heard. Attentive listening helps create a climate for action which the coachee truly owns.
The listening coach – the importance of listening and the limitations of language
Listening is a skill acquired through effort and perseverance. This is due to the nature of human communication: many of us, without realising it, make the assumption that words carry information, and listening allows us to pick up that information. But, words don’t hold meaning, people do.
When we listen, we have no choice but to interpret what we hear through the language area of our own brain, an area that will reflect, in subtle ways, our own, individual structure and history.
It follows, therefore, that there cannot be any such thing as perfect understanding or, indeed, perfect listening: because of our different brains reflecting our different linguistic and life experiences, there will always be some difference, however slight, between what one person intends through speech, and what another understands!