The 'Art' or Skill of Active Listening
How to become a good listener? Communication breaks down when either one or both parties feels un-heard, disrespected or misunderstood. Find out more
by Carrie Katz
Good communication skills enhance emotional and professional success. These skills, techniques or ‘Art’ can be learned and improved upon with practice. As coaches we lead by example. Mastering our Core Competencies, according to the ICF, enables us to focus completely on our clients. We are trained to actively listen and understand their desires/wishes/dreams/intentions to support their unique distinctions and points of view in order to coach them towards success. However the challenge in coaching communication is to encourage not only self-expression and personal clarity but equally the ability to listen.
Communication is about getting your ideas across to others, and of course the reward of feeling heard. Interpersonal by nature, it is broadly defined as verbal and non-verbal behavior perceived by others. Communication breaks down when either one or both parties feels un-heard, disrespected or misunderstood.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place” George Bernard Shaw.
How do you notice that a client may not have good listening skills? They have communication problems! They either don’t ‘get’ those around them, or they don’t understand why so much confusion is taking place in their work or home environments. A way to guide your clients is to gently introduce some of these simple techniques of Active Listening. To start off, ask your client to pay attention to their body language. Ask them to face the other person they are talking to. Are they paying attention by maintaining eye contact to enable the other person to feel more comfortable? Remind them to minimize distractions; to turn off cell phones, T.V. or radio and to put away any books or magazines. Point out that by responding, it shows others that one is not only hearing what is being said but understanding. As well, make sure to mention the need to focus on what the other person is saying while minimizing internal distractions; when one is drifting, bring it back to the other person. And finally, explain that a good listener avoids comparing oneself; instead of giving advice, one simply listens. If your clients begin to adopt these skills but continue to find themselves embroiled in conflicts with others, there is a deeper level to communication to explore.
While being trained as a group facilitator this summer, I was given this to read by Keith Pearson. It is called: Will you please just Listen?
_Will you please just Listen?
When I ask you to listen and you start giving advice, you have not done what I have asked.
When I ask you to listen and you start telling me why I shouldn’t feel the way I do, you are invalidating my feelings.
When I ask you to listen and you start trying to solve my problem, I feel underestimated and disempowered.
When I ask you to listen and you start telling me what I need to do I feel offended, pressured and controlled.
When I ask you to listen, it does not mean I am helpless. I may be faltering, depressed or discouraged, but I am not helpless.
When I ask you to listen and you do things which I can and need to do for myself, you hurt my self-esteem.
But when you accept the way I feel, then I don’t need to spend time and energy trying to defend myself or convince you, and I can focus on figuring out why I feel the way I feel and what to do about it.
And when I do that, I don’t need advice, just support, trust and encouragement.
Please remember that what you think are “irrational feelings” always make sense if you take time to listen and understand me.
~ Keith Pearson
What I took away from this was that a person needs respect, no matter a child, a co-worker or a spouse. It was a reminder that feelings are real to the person experiencing them. No one has the right to invalidate someone for feeling a certain way. At times while listening to other’s problems, we all have this common impulse to give advice, to take care/ take over or even to micro-manage. And what we don’t realize is that implying weakness and underestimating the ability in another is to diminish them in ways that aren’t always obvious.
As a coach, have a conversation with your clients about their perceptions of listening. They may not be aware that they are not listening very well. Instead, they may be reflecting on how to adequately respond, feel the need to defend themselves, give advice or simply use energy to search and formulate appropriate rebuttals. For example, we use the technique of ‘rephrasing’ (repeating what we heard back to the person we are listening to in order to verify we heard them correctly). Especially for managers and executives, explain how they may use this to their benefit. Let them see that validating the ‘other’, and becoming a better listener will improve productivity by cutting down on interpersonal problems. It will also enhance their ability to influence, persuade and negotiate and most importantly the ability to avoid conflicts and misunderstandings.
For the coach and clients, the Art of Active Listening allows both to free up the energy needed to tackle challenges creatively. Our role as coaches is to encourage, inspire and motivate our coachee’s to acquire the skills necessary to become good listeners and thereby good communicators.