This is a continuation from The Power of Listening For Personal Development – Part I
The practice of “active listening” has been used extensively in counseling and educational fields for over fifteen years now. It is also used in sales, negations and many other areas. Although it’s exact origin is unknown. Many people believe that they understand and apply it in their life and work, to truly actively listen is harder than it at first appears. The best way to describe “active listening” is to describe what it is not.
Active listening is not hearing until the other person has stopped talking so we can share our thoughts with them. Rather, active listening is truly attending to and “tuning in” to the person talking.
Most of us think we listen, yet we do not always “attend” to the person who is speaking to us. We are too busy doing other things, or thinking about things, while others are talking to us. Often times we are composing our reply in our head while the other person is talking. Our focus is on how we will reply to them, not to what they are actually saying. Other times we are entertaining judgments, opinions, or even beliefs about someone or something that is being said – while they are talking! Sometimes we forget to “live in the present moment.” Active listening is about being in the present to “tune in” every moment that is necessary.
To be an “active listener” you must develop the following skills:
Listen Attentively: It is extremely difficult to receive information when your mouth is moving and making noise. Remain silent when someone speaks. This sounds simple but it is easy to say, harder to do. Even reassuring or consoling, while appropriate in non-coaching environments, can be counter-productive in a coaching relationship as this may prevent the client from telling their story. Give the speaker your complete attention.
Avoid Distracting Behaviors: Interruptions or visual stimulation can detract from listening. One hint is if you’re on the phone and you have the time, close your PC, silent you cell phone and clean off your desk. The key here is to keep anything distracting out of view to listen thoroughly. That space of listening honors the client genuinely.
Paraphrase: Verify what you are hearing by repeating it back in your own words. A specific example of this might be; “What I heard you say was…” When you can repeat back what the client has just said, then you let the client know you have truly heard them. The client will feel understood and welcomed by your listening. It is important, however, to only paraphrase whole concepts or major points in the conversation. If you paraphrase every small part of a conversation, it can unnecessarily slow the client down and become a tedious distraction.
The extent to which you paraphrase will also vary from client to client and from issue to issue. For example, if someone is telling you about something quite complex and hard to follow, you may want to paraphrase regularly. Also, if someone is feeling very emotional, they may need the extra support that comes from knowing that they have been really heard and understood, so they may need you to paraphrase more frequently. Knowing exactly how, when and how often to paraphrase in a conversation is a very powerful skill that can be developed through concentration and practice over time.
Check Perceptions: Checking perception is similar to paraphrasing with one important distinction. Perception checking is about feelings rather than concepts. The focus is on checking what you perceive to be the emotions that motivate the other person’s communication. The concern is not what the person communicated in words, as much as it is the emotion conveyed by their tone of voice.
From a coaching perspective, some coaches can miss many of the emotional dimensions of a conversation if they are not listening for what is NOT being said. Consequently, they can miss what the client’s personal reaction to the event is and how they really feel about it. If the feeling is missed, the coach loses the opportunity to sense the unique situation of their client. Personally, feelings help me sort out data, organize it, and use it effectively as I shape and share relevant feedback. As a coach, I often reflect feelings back to my clients. For example, some things I say (which could be used in any conversation)
- “It sounds as if you are feeling….”
- “You seem really upset, excited, overwhelmed about….”
- “I’m hearing a lot of emotion in your voice when you say X, can you tell me some more about that?”
When I give this type of feedback I give my client the opportunity to confirm or disagree with my reflections of their feelings. This, too, will allow my client to feel truly heard.
Powerful listening builds on the principles of active listening with some additional strategies.
Waiting: Wait ten seconds before replying to what a person has just said. So often, we jump in and interrupt conversation before the person has finished speaking. Allow the client to have the space to finish their thoughts and feelings. There is an acronym that I sometimes use to remind myself to wait. It is W.A.I.T. and stands for “Why Am I Talking?”
Sometimes, an extended silence will prompt my client to think more about the issue and add a detail or two. This may be important and even revealing to you as I coach, as well as to my client. Many of us, particularly those in western societies, are culturally programmed to think that silences between two people are negative. The term “awkward silence” is often used to describe periods of quiet in between conversational exchanges. There is no corresponding positive term in the English language to describe this phenomenon.
You may find that it takes time and effort to train yourself into allowing your conversation partner a few extra moments to compose their thoughts. You may also find, due to cultural conditioning, that this silence is something negative, such as not listening or not understanding what they have said. If this is the case, you may need to explain the strategy to them. Alternatively, you could begin with a standard response time when speaking with them and then slowly increase the listening wait time, over the period that you work with them.
To be continued…
My e-book, “Develop the Mental Strength of a Warrior” can assist you tremendously in moving from delay to action. If you’d like to experience Coaching for Success request your Introductory Consultation.
Again, I’d like to thanks ICA…they have been such a great source of inspiration and information.
OK…how are you doing with your listening? Let me know in the comments below
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