The art of good telephone coaching centres on the same fundamental skills of face to face coaching i.e. great listening, structuring the conversation (GROW) and the processing of the coachees data. And as with a face to face coaching conversation be conscious of not adding your insights, ideas, and opinions too early or often and reflect on your intent and check that it raises the coachees awareness, leaves responsibility and choice with the coachee and the relationship is left intact.
Listening is the most important of all coaching skills fundamentals, especially when you are telephone coaching. As you have learnt on your coaching skills programmes many people are very poor listeners, and even worse when on the telephone as there can be many more distractions.
Since everyone enjoys talking, it takes a real effort to practice the fundamentals of excellent listening and to make them a habit. There are the four levels or ‘habits’ for active listening in a conversation. They are powerful, practical and proven techniques to increase your listening ability and coaching practice.
The first key to effective listening is for you to listen attentively, without interruptions.
When you pay close attention to another person, you convey to that person that you very much value what he or she has to say. Individuals you are conversing with will respond warmly to your attentiveness and will be more inclined to disclose data.
The major reason why most people are poor listeners is that they are busy preparing a reply while the other person is still speaking. In fact, they are not even listening closely to what the other person is saying. We act very much like boxers waiting for the other person to let their guard down, so they can jump in with a quick verbal punch and take over the conversation.
In addition to listening without interrupting, you should give the coachee a few verbal cues every now and then to indicate you are listening. Be active rather than passive. Indicate that you are totally engaged in the conversation. Say things like; “Hmm” “Understood” “I see” with a nod of the head etc.
The second key to effective listening is to pause and process the data just given to you by the coachee before replying. This requires good verbal punctuation (process) and may sound like a short pause, of two to three seconds in a conversation. When you pause, you accomplish three goals simultaneously.
First, you avoid running the risk of interrupting if the other person is just catching his or her breath before continuing. Second, you show the other person that you are giving careful consideration to his or her words by not jumping in with your own comments at the earliest opportunity. The third benefit of pausing is that you will actually hear the other person better. His or her words will be fully processed by you and soak into a deeper level of your mind and you will understand what he or she is saying with greater clarity. By pausing, you are able then to reflect back, summarise or paraphrase back the data from the other party and thus show that you have listened accurately.
If you are unsure of what you have heard, then the other key to effective listening is to question for clarification. Never assume that you understand what the person is saying or trying to say. Instead, summarise or clarify what has been said, for example ask, “Let me see if I understand you correctly”. “So, what I’ve taken from what you have said is…” “Can you explain that again?” This is the most powerful question I’ve ever learned for controlling a conversation. It is almost impossible not to answer. When you ask, “Can you explain that again?” The other person cannot stop himself or herself from answering more extensively. You can then follow up with other open-ended questions and keep the conversations rolling along. The other key to effective listening is to paraphrase the speaker’s words in your own words. Start like this; “Let me see if I’ve got this right. What you’re saying is . . .”
By paraphrasing the speaker’s words, you demonstrate in no uncertain terms that you are genuinely paying attention and making every effort to understand his or her thoughts or feelings.
Showing that you are attentive and interested and have listened accurately by reflecting back, summarising or paraphrasing are key to good listen but so is empathy. Your coachee will want to know that you understand him/her and that you ‘get where there coming from’. When empathising ensure that this is authentic, and you can really relate and understand their situation.
When you can empathise and relate to the coachee it builds a greater level of rapport and this leads to higher levels of disclosure which provides you with more material to be able to ask more insightful questions which then facilitates the coachees thinking and ignites their minds in order to raise awareness and generate ideas and solutions.
I hope now you appreciate that listening is critical to developing your coaching practice and especially while telephone coaching. From my experience these are some key pointers to help you coach better on the telephone.
Stay present: Prevent yourself from being distracted by others (I appreciate that this is difficult when working from home with children, partners or pets) or external noises and concentrate on what your coachee is saying.
Notice emotions: Listen to the emotion in your coachees voice. Does it match or endorse the words they are using or what they are saying? Notice what is going on for you too when listening, this is data and is telling you something.
Don’t interrupt. You listen more effectively when you’re not talking, so refrain from interrupting your coachee. Let them finish what they are saying; pause, process and then summarise. This is sometimes hard on the telephone because you can’t see them ‘thinking’. So, what I do is contract upfront and ask them to somehow let me know of they have stopped thinking. This can sometimes stop the flow so use sparingly.
Say it again: If you are having difficulty listening, due to a poor line or connection then make the necessary adjustments. You might say, “I’m afraid I missed that last point. Please repeat that for me.” Can I call you back on a different line etc.
Reflect, Summarise or Paraphrase back: Check you have heard the key facts and content of the coachees conversation correctly. It also lets the coachee know you have understood them. Statements such as “What I’m hearing is…” and “Sounds like you are saying…” are great ways to reflect back, summarise and paraphrase.
The reason why listening is such a powerful tool in coaching, especially on the telephone, is because listening builds trust and thus rapport. The more you listen to another person, the more he or she trusts you and the relationship builds. A stronger relationship leads to more disclosure, and with more disclosure comes more data for you to process and ask great questions which in turn generate thinking from the coachee, the whole purpose of a coaching conversation, whether face to face or on the telephone.
Finally, practicing listening builds self-discipline from the listener (the coach). If you do not practice self-discipline in listening, your mind will wander in a hundred different directions. The more you work at paying close attention to what the other person is saying, the more self-disciplined you will become. In other words, by learning to listen well, you develop your coaching practice and as you all know practice makes perfect and telephone coaching is better than no coaching practice!