As Coaches, we are trained in many different communication skills to aid our clients, but no other skill is more important to developing a sense of connection than the skill of active listening.
Active listening involves a way of listening and responding to the other person that improves overall understanding. This is a valuable technique that requires the listener to thoroughly absorb, understand, respond, and retain what’s being said. While engaging in active listening, the listener may also pay close attention to the speaker’s behavior and body language in order to gain a better understanding of their message.
What we don’t want in communication
The practice of active listening takes us away from several common unhelpful listening habits such as:
- Being stuck in your own head
- Not showing respect for the speaker
- Only hearing superficial meaning (not hearing underlying meaning)
- Not making eye contact
- Rushing the speaker
- Becoming distracted
- “Topping” the story (saying “that reminds me of the time…”)
- Forgetting what was said in the past
- Asking about unimportant details
- Focusing too much on details and missing the big picture
- Ignoring what you don’t understand
- Only pretending to pay attention
Any of these habits distract from the meaning behind our words and serve to lessen the effectiveness of our interactions. In this way, employing the skill of active listening will increase the understanding within our communication and foster greater connection within those relationships.
The Big 6 (Skills for Active Listening)
Active listening involves 6 main skills:
- Paying attention
- Withholding judgment
- Be Silent
1. Pay attention.
One goal of active listening and being an effective listener is to set a comfortable tone that gives your coachee an opportunity to think and speak. Allow “wait time” before responding. Don’t cut the speaker off, finish their sentences, or start formulating your answer before they’ve finished. Pay attention to your body language as well as your frame of mind when engaging in active listening. Making eye contact, displaying an engaged posture and smiling will show non-verbal cues of affirmation and will be encouraging. Be focused on the moment, and operate from a place of respect as the listener.
2. Withhold judgment.
Active listening requires an open mind. As a listener and a leader, be open to new ideas, new perspectives, and new possibilities when practicing active listening. Even when good listeners have strong views, they suspend judgment, hold any criticisms, and avoid arguing or selling their point right away.
When you’re the listener, don’t assume that you understand the other person correctly — or that they know you’ve heard them. Mirror their information and emotions by periodically paraphrasing key points. Reflecting is an active listening technique that indicates that you and your counterpart are on the same page.
Don’t be shy to ask questions about any issue that’s ambiguous or unclear when engaging in active listening. Clarifying involves asking questions of the speaker to ensure that the correct message has been received. Clarification usually involves the use of open questions which enables the speaker to expand on certain points as necessary.
Restating key themes as the conversation confirms and solidifies your grasp of the other person’s point of view. It also helps both parties to be clear on what has been said and its’ meaning. By summarizing the points made during the conversation, you allow for clarification and correction if necessary
6. Be Silent.
Active listening is first about understanding the other person, then about being understood as the listener. Allowing time for the processing of thoughts and ideas is necessary in communication. Be silent and be comfortable in that silence. Wait. Allow time to process, to think and create understanding. Asking questions and allowing space for thoughtful responses is the essence of active listening.
Active listening is one of the most important elements within a Coaching relationship but is a skill that is applicable to many other situations where communication is key. Developing a system by which the speaker feels heard will not only facilitate better relationships but will increase connection on a fundamental level.
The applications are endless. Using these techniques will foster a sense of empathy within the parties and encourage a feeling of deeper connection. This is particularly useful within leadership roles, team environments and for HR professionals but can be broadly applied to any relationship.
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Katrina Murphy is a Professional Intuitive Mindset and Confidence Coach in Ontario, Canada, serving clients across Canada and internationally. Katrina helps professionals to change the relationship that they have with themselves so they can reconnect both in their relationships and at work. She’s been featured in various publications and is the creator of the Power-Passion-Purpose Framework.