Listening (Part 1)

What does it mean to be a good listener? So often in a conversation we’re waiting for our turn to speak rather than truly listening for what’s going on beyond ourselves. Something rare and wonderful takes place when we really listen: the other person feels heard.  This sounds self-evident, I know, but in coaching, listening is the core skill that enables people to open up and learn about themselves in an environment where they feel safe.  It lets all the stuff that’s been rattling around in the client’s head have a space to emerge so that the client can consider it from a different perspective.

Learning how to really listen is a magical tool to add to your toolbox whether or not you’re a coach: as a manager, friend, partner, or family member, being able to truly listen can have a powerful effect on your relationships.  When you truly listen, people open up to you in ways that can transform how you connect to one another and what you can do together.

In co-active coaching we talk about the three levels of listening.

The first level is internal listening.  At this level, we’re mainly conscious of our own thoughts and reactions.  We’re focusing less on what the other person is saying means to them and more on so what does this mean for me?  This is a normal part of our information-filtering process.  Most of the time we do need to contextualise what’s going on around us with reference to how it’s going to impact us: what we want or need; how the situation makes us feel; what ethical concerns arise for us; what we want to do next.

The first level can also be a good grounding point for our own intuition: as you notice unexpected things going on in yourself (are you holding your breath for no apparent reason as the other person is talking? Did a sudden image or metaphor flash into your mind?) these can be interesting observations to guide what you ask or say next.

When we want to practice active listening with someone, we should be aiming beyond our internal dialogue and focusing on what our conversation partner is trying to say, from their perspective.  I’ll cover how to do this in part 2 and part 3 of this series.

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