Listen like a Coach

To listen like a coach, you first must make the distinction  between what you know as “normal listening”  and “Coaching Listening”
You know, and lets just face it; “normal listening” is really done for your own benefit.

An extension on hearing, “normal listening” has the same functions of warning of danger, helping you assess situations and helping you navigate your way around.  You know, the basic stuff.

It helps you make judgements that allow you to function in the world.

In short, it’s all about you, your needs, your survival, you.

You, you....and you!

The purpose of “normal listening” is survival.

“Coaching Listening” is different.

When you decide to listen like a coach, you are moving to a new level of listening with a agenda of contribution rather than just of personal survival.

The Purpose of “Coaching Listening”, is to give your client Clarity.

Let me explain.

You see, when you listen to a client, you are not just listening for your own benefit.  It’s not just about you getting a clear understanding so you can make some brilliant intervention and lay claim to being a great coach.

No, no, no.

Your listening is about them hearing what they are saying, not just you hearing  them.

Now that requires a whole different discipline and set of skills.

For instance, the first discipline of “Coaching Listening” is letting go of your judgements and creating a “Judgement-Free Zone” in your coaching sessions.

For your own survival, making judgements is crucial.  As a coach, however, your judgements simply pollute cloud, dilute and distract from your client’s clarity.

That’s why when you are coaching, it’s crucial that you give up making any judgements on your clients.  It’s got to be a ‘Judgement-Free Zone’, otherwise you are getting in the way of their process.

Trust me, you can smell a judgemental coach when you are being coached.  Just grow up and suspend your judgements.  You’ll be surprised at how great life is when you stop being judgemental.

Note: If you have had a background as a consultant or an expert in any field, this will be particularly difficult for you.  Your value as a consultant is dependent on your ability to make judgements.  This is yet another subtle difference between consulting and coaching.

The Second discipline of listening is to let go of trying to prove how intelligent you are or how capable you are, by the quality of the solutions you provide.

Once again, a great strength and requirement for a consultant, but even in the Consulting environment, you can be a real pain if you jump quickly into creating a solution.  (Premature Solution Making) (C'mon consultants - you know what I'm talking about!)

The downside of this is that the ego often uses this solution provider function as being another way of justifying yourself.  Once again, you will get in the way of your client’s process if you play this game.

Instead of being a SME (Subject Matter Expert), you need to embrace and choose the low status position of SMI (Subject Matter Idiot).  The big difference here is that you are choosing this situation, not because you are an idiot, but that by letting go of your expert status, you get out of your client’s way as they work through their process.

A consultant always looks like a hero, the bearer of solutions, the rescuer of guys and gals in distress.  
The coach always makes their clients look like the hero, they are the  catalysts of solutions and a respectful resource for all the guys and gals in distress.

When you choose to be a coach, you renounce the right to being a Glory Hound.

In the history of coaching, an early example of this position is seen in the form of the court jester, who would dace around the king or queen, asking riddles, telling jokes and rattling their colorful bells, in order for the king or queen to figure it all out.  Read up on your Shakespeare to hear some of the incredible dialogue, riddles, puzzles and jokes that the jesters used in their craft, mostly at their own peril.

The third discipline, is to “listen with the intention of helping your clients listen”.  There’s skills like paraphrasing, repeating verbatim what people said, clarifying what they said, asking them questions aout what they said that really help you help your clients to capture the gems that they usually never hear.  (You'll find them clearly listed in the ICF Core Competencies.) This is a great service to do, gently helping your client hear themselves.  

The fourth discipline is around “acknowledgement and giving feedback”.  These are both art forms that do have specific skills and boundaries.  You really need to master these, and if you are serious, we have a whole day’s workshop on developing these skills.   

It’s so easy to turn the diamond into a piece of coal, to pollute the magic of the moment, by degrading acknowledgement into a cheap manipulative compliment and demeaning your client by turning a constructive, empowering piece of well thought through feedback into a knee-jerk, ego serving and destructive piece of “Constructive Criticism”.

The fifth discipline is “Respect”.  I the coaching context, the respect you give to your client is like the complete opposite of the respect between a guru ad a devotee.  The devotee only sees light, wisdom, capability, brilliance ad a higher purpose in their guru. 

As someone’s coach, you really need to have the love of the devotee for the guru – especially if your client doesn’t really believe in themselves. Your job is to believe in them, especially when they stop believing in themselves.

In the consulting context, it’s shocking to see the lack of respect and the distain that SME’s have for SMI’s. (think: “Clients”)

In fact, I believe that SME’s invented the term SMI.

Coaching’s not like that.  You deeply trust and respect your client’s ability to achieve their goals, sort their problems and find their own brilliance.
This is just the beginning of a long conversation that requires you to try this way of listening out for yourself.
The simple truth is that "Coaching Listening" has very little in common with “normal Listening “ or “Consultant Listening”.   

I trust that you have a better idea now as well as having a whole new set of questions about how to master this.  

Thanks to Chris Taylor of Winning Habits for inspiring this conversation to be written down.

Let us know if this brings up any questions or ideas for you.

Thanks for visiting us here. Get to know clarity. Email me, Mike Kennedy...

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