Good morning, good afternoon or good evening, wherever you are. Compliments of the season and my best wishes to you for the year ahead.
It gives me great pleasure today to introduce my new newsletter, “The Coach’s Coach…practices to help you coach even better!” As you probably have worked out, this newsletter is specifically for coaches and my purpose is twofold:
- To provide coaches with background theory and some scientific research as well as the experience of some well-known coaches and my own on specific topics that I believe will be useful to you; and
- To provide practices that you will be able to integrate and experiment with in your sessions in a way that will enable you to consistently coach even more effectively.
In this way, I hope you will gain great value from these newsletters. I also hope you will feel free to provide us with your comments and accordingly contribute to the many conversations that I hope will be provoked by the contents of these newsletters. So, give today’s newsletter a chance, and hopefully a couple more, before you decide whether to stay on board (after all, it’s free) or unsubscribe.
Today’s topic is on listening. As you are probably aware, listening actively is central to good coaching – in fact, as I will share with you, I believe it is probably the most important skill for coaches since everything hinges on listening.
Probably the first distinction I came across in my early days of coaching was between listening to respond and listening for understanding. My explanation to myself was that when we listen to respond we are listening in our heads – we are listening to that voice that is, for example, telling us we do or don’t know what our next question is, or we are reminding ourselves of the next step in our process etc. When we listen for understanding, however, we are listening in our client’s head – we are trying to understand them, including (but not limited to) what they are saying, how they feel about what they are saying and what they might be leaving unsaid. As you probably are aware, listening for understanding is the way to go.
Since that realization, I have probably become curious about the question, “But what do we actually listen for?” (as opposed to “to”). This led me to various authors who have spoken about focusing on following the threads that our clients give us – for example, if they are busy providing us with their current narrative and they happen to mention that they are hesitant, that may or may not be a thread to delve deeper into; or if they share their worldview on something, that may be an opportunity to help them broaden their perspective.
The example of the client saying they are hesitant brings another model you might like to follow in your listening. Way back in the 1970’s, Timothy Gallwey (whom many people regard as at least one of the fathers of modern-day coaching) came up with useful formula: Performance = Potential minus Interference. According to him (and other well-known more recent coaches/authors like Myles Downey), if we listen for, and help client to resolve, whatever is interfering with their performance, then client’s potential consequently grows and so does performance. So, listening for an understanding of that interference will provide us coaches with a powerful array of questions.
Put another way, if you think of an iceberg, interference might arise both above the waterline (externally, things we can observe like behaviour) or below the waterline (internally – for example, client’s way of thinking, their beliefs, assumptions, values etc, all of which manifest themselves above the waterline and may be the seed that causes interference).
One of my favourite coaches is a guy called Michael Neill, and his podcast, “Caffeine for the Soul” happens also to be one of my favourite podcasts. A recent episode entitled “Little Fires and Loose Threads” is highly recommended. Essentially, he also talks about following loose threads in our questioning, those threads being given to us by our clients in their current narrative or even when that narrative starts to move forward. But it’s the “little fires” metaphor that was new to me – what he says is listen for client’s Aha! moments, moments when they have insights; and then pour petrol on them! Help client to develop those insights. I thought that was brilliant!
What I have tried to do for you in this newsletter is to firstly provide you with a general direction in your listening, namely, to listen for understanding, and then to provide you with several useful options
that you might experiment with when listening for understanding. Play around with them. To help you do so, use the attached resource, a practice focusing on listening for understanding and interference. Try it, not only in your coaching sessions – remember, every conversation is an opportunity to practise listening.
As this becomes second nature for you (i.e. your new habit), you will find that your coaching sessions flow almost effortlessly (for you anyway). To use another of Michael Neill’s quotes: “Show up fully; and respond to what shows up!” That’s probably the most useful coaching goal for us all!
Until next month