listen

By Jennifer Turvey, Improvement Practitioner and Coach

Tuning In

Listening as a coach means tuning in completely to what the other person is saying, and that doesn’t come easy to us humans.

The average human is deeply distracted by other thoughts and they naturally listen on the most basic level: what does this mean for me? Focusing on what it means to the person who is talking and taming distractions are essential if you want to be a productive contributor in meetings at work.

In coaching, listening goes beyond receiving information and extends to awareness of how your responses are received by the other person.

Some people are naturally better listeners than others, but listening is a skill that can be improved through practice.

Telling is Counterproductive

Listening

Listening refers to the act of receiving and interpreting information. Whether we know it or not we are receiving that information from others in multiple ways:

  • Spoken words
  • Body language
  • Facial expressions
  • Sound (pitch and level of the person’s voice)
  • What is not said

And we’re interpreting it too.

Information coming from another person is like signals, and the listener is like a receiver.

The listener picks up some, but not all of what is being sent because of interference. Static, so to speak, takes a variety of forms, and is both inside and outside of the listener.

Externally, static may take the form of an enticing object such as a mobile phone, or the noise of traffic. Internally, it may takes the form of thinking.

It's the Thought That Counts

It’s Complicated

In everyday conversations – even important meetings at work – we’re used to getting distracted and missing part of what the other person is saying.

Distractions: Inner Chatter

Inner chatter has a purpose: helping us to navigate daily life. But it is often happening when we’re supposedly listening.

It sounds a little like this: “I’m going to have a heck of a drive home tonight in rush hour because of that extra meeting.” “Pizza…did she say pizza? I could use a slice about now.” “Holy cow, that woman looks like my mother.…”

Distractions: Simultaneous Processing
Wow. Your brain is such an incredible machine. You’re able to:

  • Think about what you’re going to say next – while the person is speaking.
  • Multitask – listen to them and get something else done at the same time! Switch an appointment in your phone, skim the article they passed out at the beginning of that meeting, rummage through your briefcase. We won’t mention texting, which falls under the category of not listening at all. That’s another topic.
  • Think through a brilliant tangent somewhat related to what the person is saying, while they’re talking. Squirrel!

Distractions: Taking Things Personally
We’re used to thinking about how we would respond, what the implications are for us:

  • What are the implications for me?
  • What would I do if I were in that situation?
  • What’s my opinion?

Like inner chatter, this kind of listening is useful to us as beings in the world because it helps us navigate tasks of everyday life, form an understanding ourselves and of what’s going on around us. Totally helpful if you’re traveling across the world, changing planes 5 times.
But it’s not as useful when the goal is to form a picture of what’s going on from other perspectives. Or as a coach, to understand another person’s perspective and guide them.

So those are the listening habits we start out with. Some people never progress. Some people are naturally better at listening than others. And many of us work on our listening, especially if we want to contribute effectively in meetings. Or if we seek to develop our coaching chops.

The Power of Asking

Deeper Listening

Deeper listening is a central coaching aptitude.

It means

  • Pausing that inner chatter. Putting aside what it means to you personally.
  • Focusing deeply on all of the signals they’re sending out, understanding what they say in the context of a particular situation.
  • The ability to choose which part of what they say you’ll respond to.
  • Developing and sustaining awareness of how your responses land with the other person.
  • Helping the other person to move forward through your responses.
The Problem with Telling

Active Listening

To be honest, active listening isn’t 100% about taking in information. It includes a good bit of talking. And a lot of interpretation, thinking, and awareness.
That is,

  • Developing and sustaining awareness of how your responses land with the other person.
  • Helping the other person to move forward through your responses.

Reflecting, Clarifying, and Articulating
An observer sees the big picture because they’re positioned outside of the action, and that’s where the coach is. Sharing information from that vantage point can be enormously helpful to the problem-solver.
Reflecting: When the problem-solver loses steam with their thought process, repeating what they’ve said back to them with a summary or simple rephrasing says “I heard you. I’m interested in what you’re saying. Keep going!”
Clarifying: When things have gotten unfocused, clarifying allows the coach to bring them into focus by adding more specifics.

  • “. . . is that right?”
  • “It sounds like . . .”

Articulating
Articulating is similar to clarifying, and uses similar language as clarifying, but has a different goal. Rather than helping them find their way back when they’re off course, articulating puts together what the person has already assembled, connects all the dots, to help them move forward.
Reminders of statements previously made (or written by the person in their project documents) can be useful when articulating.

  • “Weren’t you saying . . .?”
  • “Didn’t you say your goal was to . . .?”

Important: Remember that clarifying and articulating are acts of synthesis in which the coach attempts to create a coherent picture, and that might be off track, so verification is critical. Check with the person you’re coaching!

Meta-View
This is the view from 6,000 feet. It’s helpful when the problem solver is in the weeds, and is stuck in the way they see the situation.

  • “What if we step back and give it a larger frame/context. What would you say then?”
  • “I’m noticing a lot of struggling here. How could we look at this differently?”
The Power of Asking

Summary

Listening to another person means receiving and interpreting information in the form of words, body language, facial expression, and more.
When listening, humans are prone to distraction and understanding what is said in listener’s personal context.
Skilled listeners are able to listen to what a person says in terms of the other person’s perspective and other contexts.
Listening as a coach means being laser-focused on the problem solver.
It also involves active listening, which is the ability to respond in ways that move the problem-solver forward in addressing a problem or issue that they own.

Ask Instead of Tell

About Jennifer Turvey

Jenn is completing a one-year professional coaching certification. She currently coaches clients and works as a freelance writer and instructional designer.

She has her Lean and Six Sigma Green Belt and previously worked as an improvement and operational planning practitioner for the State of Colorado.

Jenn studied spiritual and religious experience in her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, and is a perpetual student of human development and personal growth.

She enjoys snowshoeing, eating, homebrewing, and drinking a good beer while reading a good book.

Jenn Turvey

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References

Co-Active Coaching: The Proven Framework for Transformative Conversations at Work and in Life by Henry Kimsey-House, Karen Kimsey-House, Phillip Sandahl, and Laura Whitworth

Active Listening Techniques from Personal Coaching Information for Work and Life

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