5 Tips to Help Coaches Become Masters of Active Listening
A critical skill for every coach and people leader
A 2021 study showed that 96% of us rate our listening skills very highly. But, we retain only half of what we hear.
Here's why: adult brains can process about 400 - 800 words per minute. But, even the fastest speakers among us speak at roughly 125 words per minute. This means that three quarters of our brain capacity can easily be used to do something else while someone is speaking to us. It's no surprise then, that we do!
This is precisely why active listening is a difficult skill to master. For coaches and people in leadership positions, active listening is a critically important skill to build trust. Active listening makes the other person feel heard and valued.
Active listening techniques to help you become a master active listener
Active listening is not about forcing yourself to shut your brain down when listening. It's about being in the moment and clearing your mind to focus on the person speaking. It is a flow state where you are absorbing all that the person is communicating: both verbal and non verbal.
We've identified 5 key elements to elevate your active listening skills: mindfulness, curiosity, patience, silence and observation. Practice active listening using our tips below!
Mindfulness is the companion skill to active listening. Many coaches have told us that they have a regular mindfulness practice, and they often spend 5-15 minutes meditating before every coaching session.
It's normal to have thoughts wander when you are trying to listen to someone. But remember: you are not your thoughts. When you find yourself getting distracted by your thoughts, practice letting go of them, and gently guide yourself back to the conversation. Focus your attention on the coachee, and tune back in to the flow of their voice.
Nurture your curiosity
Build genuine curiosity about your coachees, and what they share. Unlike critical listening, active listening means leaving judgement at the door. Instead, use open ended questions to build a deep understanding of your coachee and their motivations.
Being non judgmental is critically important to building trust. Withholding judgment, repeat back to the coachee what you heard. Use socratic questioning to get to the deepest levels of thought and uncover the root causes of the challenges faced by your coachee.
In a coaching context, it's only natural to want to jump to sharing your own ideas as a way of showing your understanding and empathy for the coachee. But, exercise patience in such moments, and continue to listen. Create the space for the coachee to complete their trains of thought. This creates agency in the coachee's mind, and shows them your trust in their abilities.
When you feel the urge to interject with your ideas or solutions, take a pause and count to 10. Then double that pause. If you still feel that it's valuable to share, then go ahead at the next opportune moment. Often, you may find that by not interjecting, the coachee has followed their train of thought and arrived at a place of unique value to them.
Use silence strategically
Silent moments within coaching conversations are critically important for growth. They provide the space for the coachee to process and reflect on their experiences. Silence can be uncomfortable, but it's important to lean into the discomfort rather than run from it.
Allow yourself to be comfortable with silence, and learn to use it strategically to encourage coachees to go deeper.
Observe non verbal cues
Speech is only a part of our communication repertoire. Non verbal communication conveys important signals about our inner self that we may not always speak out loud. This includes our body language, tone of voice, gestures and eye contact.
Start by paying close attention to people's body language in your daily life. What is their non verbal communication saying that the speaker's words aren't?
In coaching sessions, observe your coachees' body language to understand the nuances that they express. Look for things such as: how they make eye contact, how do their facial expressions change as they talk, and use those signals to create the full picture of their needs through the coaching experience.
Practice, practice, practice
To become a master of active listening, practice these active listening techniques today. Like with any other skill, the more consistently we practice, the better we become.
Try it out with your coaching supervisor, a friend or a coaching colleague. Tell us how you go in the comments!
This resonates a lot.
Inspired by Claire Pedrick's "Simplifying coaching" book, I have written a short article on how to do less for coaches. It touches some of the points you made.
In short, this is what can help a coach to do less (and achieve more):
1. Just listen
2. Relax your own striving
3. Work less than your client
4. Take a stand of now knowing
5. Drop your agenda
6. Keep the right question in mind