Active listening is a communication technique used in coaching, counselling, and mentoring. It can be developed and excelled with practice over the period of time. The underlined principle of active listening is to fully concentrate, understand, and ensure that you hear the other person, and that the other person knows you are listening what they say.
Difference Between Hearing and Listening
Though many people think that hearing and listening are the same, but it is not true. Listening goes far beyond one’s natural hearing process.
On the one hand hearing is just a passive occurrence that requires no effort. Listening, on the other hand, is a conscious choice that demands your attention and concentration. Good listening also requires keeping an open mind, refraining from judgment and making direct eye contact.
Becoming an Active Listener
However, active listening can be difficult to master and will, therefore, take time and patience to develop. There are some key active listening techniques that help individuals to not only acquire the skill but also master it:
1. Being Present
Be present while listening to other person with full attention. One of the easiest ways to pay attention is to get rid of as many of the distractions as you can. Also, look at the speaker directly and maintain a good eye contact.
2. Convey Your Attention
Another technique to listen actively is to use your own body language and gestures to convey your attention. In coaching it is very helpful to create a rapport with the client and them comfortable and open to share.
Some gestures helpful while listening are:
- Nod occasionally.
- Smile and use other facial expressions.
- Note your posture and make sure it is open and inviting.
- Encourage the speaker to continue with small verbal comments like yes, and uh huh.
3. Reflect and Paraphrase
As a listener try to understand what other person is sharing without distorting the message by personal filters, assumptions, judgments, and beliefs. This may require you to reflect what is being said and ask questions. For example:
- “What I’m hearing is,”
- “Sounds like you are saying,”
- “What do you mean when you say.”
- “Is this what you mean?”
- “I may not be understanding you correctly,What I thought you just said is XXX; is that what you meant?”
4. Defer Judgment
Don’t be judgemental while listening. Specially, while doing coaching because being judgemental could lead to limit understanding the client’s problem. Moreover, the client could feel uncomfortable.
How Your Body Language Shows That You are Listening?
Understanding and showing right body language is a critical skill to be a good listener. People who listen properly are more likely to display at least some of these signs. However these signs may not be appropriate in all situations and across all cultures.
Smile combined with nods of the head can be powerful in affirming that messages are being listened to and understood.
2. Eye Contact
Listener should maintain eye contact with the speaker. It is usually encouraging for the listener but you also need to learn how much eye contact is appropriate based on the speaker’s comfort level.
Posture can tell a lot about the sender and receiver in interpersonal interactions. To show that you are receptive to other people’s ideas, uncross your arms and legs. Put your feet flat on the floor and use open palm gestures (which is a body language display inviting others into the conversation).
Mirroring of facial expressions is sign of good listening. When you mirror speaker’s body language, it shows that you agree with her. Moreover, it is helpful in shoeing empathy to the speaker in emotional situations.
5. Avoid Distraction
Avoid the temptation to check your text messages, watch, or multi-task in any form. Also, remove barriers that block your view to the speaker.
Active Listening as the most important coaching competency
This is ICF’s description on what active listening is:
“Ability to focus completely on what the client is saying and is not saying, to understand the meaning of what is said in the context of the client’s desires, and to support client self-expression.”
Everyone wants to be listened. A coach focuses on to be present and truly listen to the client’s story. Though, most conversations take place at a surface level, being a coach try to go to deep enough to make real discovery of underlying issues.
The following process ties the above mentioned points under active listening to the transformative coaching:
- Agree with the client and the client’s agenda.
- Attentively listen to the client’s concerns, goals, values and beliefs.
- Distinguish between the words, the tone of voice, and the body language.
- Summarise, paraphrase, reiterate, and mirror back what the client has said to ensure clarity and understanding.
- Encourage, accept, explore and reinforce the client’s expression of feelings, perceptions, concerns, beliefs, suggestions, etc.,
- Integrate and build on client’s ideas and suggestions,
- Understand the essence of the client’s communication.
- Allow the client to clear the situation without judgment or attachment in order to move on to next steps.
The best you can really help the person and contribute in the conversation when he’s speaking, is to simply listen.
The bottomline is how do we control ourselves, to clear our minds to not think anything but to simply listen? The following two conditions are helpful in transformative coaching:
- Calmness: A calm mind, when all thoughts are silenced, helps you focus on the one thing that matters: listening.
2) Curiosity: A healthy level of curiosity heightens your interest in the person you’re speaking to.
Combining calmness and curiosity, you will achieve the right level of active listening and come up with the right powerful question that makes a great difference.
While improving yourself to be a better coach, use everyday conversations to practice mindfulness of your listening patterns and habits. Practice deep listening to get “inside the inner world” of the other person or what we call Coaching Presence, another important ICF core competency.