Listening is a key to success in so many areas; successful communication, successful leadership, and successful coaching are all underpinned by the power of listening. It's also a key that many of us fail to make good use of in the workplace.
Listening with intention, or active listening, is an absolutely fundamental tool that you must have in your coaching toolbox if you are going to be an effective coach.
It was in my early years of study of the human make up that I came across a poem called Please Listen (author unknown). It spoke to me both as one who listens and who needs to be heard. I’ve always been someone for whom listening comes easily and effortlessly. I have always, by nature, listened for more than what is being said. I watch the body language, to what's not being said, listening for a deeper meaning to the story that can be found in the speaker’s energy (are they excited or withdrawn), the tone and volume of their voice, and how they are speaking (with confidence or fear).
You might be thinking, “well that’s great for you, but it’s not as easy for me.” The good news is that this isn’t a case of you either have it or you don’t. Listening with intention can learned and practiced.
Active listening springs from a sincere curiosity to hear what the other person has to share. This leads to asking open-ended questions and makes way for a no-judgment interaction. Curiosity opens up opportunities.
Why listen with intention?
Listening with intention is about listening for more than than just the words being said and it allows the employee to feel understood, which makes them feel safe and more trusting in the discussion. With a sense of trust and safety, by nature, we are willing to be more open and sharing, which will assist in coaching for success. It's essential to turn off any of your own mind chatter and your desire to talk over the employee, don't allow your own opinions or points of view to get in the way of you hearing what needs to be heard.
When you are coaching your employees, identify what is important to the employee, then walk in their shoes. By that, I mean try to view the situation from their perspective, understand how they are being affected. When you do this, you will get a truer sense of which approach is required for that employee. One way to walk in their shoes is by knowing their temperament and how they communicate, respond, react and take direction. This coaching cheat sheet might help you get a sense of different people’s needs.
As a coach, listening with intention is about listening for:
- what the employee says and doesn't say;
- the truth in their story;
- their values and beliefs;
- what motivates them;
- what holds them back;
- any resistance or fear;
- the tone and volume of their voice;
- where there is imbalance;
- what their vision and goals are; and, in turn,
- identify 'what's next'.
Listening also means having moments of silence. We as humans are programmed to speak, to talk, to fill the air with sound and words. It can often feel uncomfortable to sit in silence; however, part of communicating is listening and sometimes a moment of silence is magical. It allows what has been said to sink in and resonate, it makes space for those ah-ha moments to arise without being interrupted with further chatter, and it creates opportunities for new ideas to come to through. Be aware when to talk and when to listen.
And lastly, listen to your own inner knowing. That gut instinct, your intuitive sense that will guide you when to talk and when to listen. It will assist you in asking powerful, open-ended questions.
When you are committed to listening with intention, it helps your employees think more clearly, work through issues that need to be resolved, and identify solutions that they come up with for themselves. That is much more empowering than being told what to do.
Listen for what's being said and what is not being said and watch how you become a more effective coach.