Are You Really Listening?

by Amy Ruppert

Listening is one of the most powerful core competencies of coaching. I’ve often told learners who are new to coaching if they can’t remember the five coaching skills in our model, just remember to listen! That in itself is tremendously powerful.

When coaches move beyond the novice stage and into a more experienced level, there are a number of factors that raise the bar in their efficacy. It all begins with listening. The coach expands their capacity to hear beyond the words and listen on multiple levels. It’s what I like to call full sensory listening. What does this mean exactly? Some of it is metaphoric and some of it is very real to the senses. Let’s break it down:

Sight: What vision are you forming as the person speaks? What are you seeing in your mind’s eye?

Hearing: What are you hearing in their tone, cadence, voice inflections and in specific words that are used?

Taste: What is the coachee expressing in your interpretation? Is it sweet, bitter, salty, spicy or sour?

Touch: Where and how are the coachee’s words and expressions landing in your body? Does it touch your heart or give you a pang in your gut?

Smell: Does what you’re hearing smell right? Is it adding up or is there something that smells “off”?

Intuition: Let’s not discount what’s often referred to as the sixth sense! What’s your intuition telling you about what you’re hearing? What inklings are you getting?

Sensory data is used to engage in the active listening done in coaching. When we receive that data we reflect it back to the coachee with the use of active listening skills such as mirroring, paraphrasing, summarizing and clarifying. Even if you’re dead wrong about what you may have interpreted in what you heard, the coachee has the opportunity to correct it and clearly express what is really so if the coach remains in a neutral space and is open to and OK with being wrong. This makes the coachee feel heard, safe and understood which is the perfect environment for powerful coaching to happen.

Take the full sensory listening challenge this week. Pick one or two of these sensory areas to focus on and see how much deeper your listening goes. Developing each one is like developing a muscle. It needs to be worked!