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An aspect of coaching that has always fascinated me is what a coach listens for. I think a coach listens to what the client is saying, that is to content, but that a coach listens for something else, some pivotal distinctions that help us help our clients broaden or deepen their perspectives.

Let’s look at how a coaching conversation goes. Generally, the coach initiates the communication (normally with a question), our client then responds to the coach’s initiative, and then the coach responds, enquires or explores something that the client has said. So, as coaches we choose what we want to focus our (and our client’s) attention on in our response, enquiry or exploration so that we can take our client beyond their current narrative.

If we think of an iceberg as a metaphor for what our client is saying, then the first thing we might distinguish is between what is external and internal. The external things client may bring to the table are, at one level, things like their behaviour and actions and, at another level, the outcomes of that behaviour or action. These are visible and so are above the waterline. Internally, below the waterline, we find things such as the client’s beliefs and values, the factors that underpin their (habitual) way of thinking, their way of being, or their way of responding emotionally.

There’s a link between these: the ultimate outcomes depend on our client’s behaviour or actions; their behaviour or actions depend on their way of thinking or their way of being / responding; and these ways depend on their values, beliefs etc. – and the client consciously or subconsciously chooses the values or beliefs he will rely on in informing his way of responding, his behaviour or actions, and therefore indirectly the positive or negative outcome.

What this means is that we can listen for which of these our client is giving us and raise their awareness by asking them questions that relate to links (or lack of links) to the other levels in the iceberg. A rule of thumb is that our clients not only benefit from greater awareness of these links but, in addition, are more able to change their behaviour, actions and therefore outcomes, the deeper they are able to understand, and therefore change, the beliefs, values and ways of being that are not serving them. The area below the waterline is therefore pivotal in changing behaviour and actions.

I hope that this diagram sums up how you might eavesdrop on your clients’ thinking.

I would love to hear your thoughts and, if you are interested, perhaps we could chat about those thoughts or any questions that arise for you. If you are up for this, here’s a link to my diary – let’s have an informal virtual coffee chat.

Until then!

Best wishes


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