The Art of Listening
Since I began coaching training, I’ve gotten a lot of reactions from people, typically along the lines of “Oooooh. You’re a life coach.” And then they move on to the next thing, glossing over it as some sort of hokey thing they heard about in an infomercial, on an internet sidebar ad, or an episode of Real Housewives of affluentown and disfunctionville. But really, what is this coaching thing?
Coaching is about asking great questions that help a person discover, explore, clarify and take manageable action toward something they really want. Coaches aren’t there to give advice or tell you what you should do. They are there to ask questions to help you go deeper and unlock that “aha” moment where you connect not only with what you really want, but where you recognize your capacity to act. Coaching is forward looking, helping you to take action to accomplish goals and desires. Counseling, on the other hand, is focused on things from the past that aren’t allowing a person to fully engage in the present.
I’m guessing there still might be some doubters out there. In the words of the great infomercial hosts of the past, but wait, there’s more! I want you give you some context that helps frame up the skills and training of coaching.
For almost fifteen years, I worked in higher education at colleges and universities in student support. In every role I had, one of my core responsibilities was handling crisis, everything from the first year student struggling with homesickness to the worst crisis imaginable, the suicide of a student. This work was emotionally and mentally tough, demanding and draining. And yet, it was amazing to walk along students as they got through their toughest moments and emerged into the light on the other side, stronger and with greater knowledge of their own power.
I decided to embark on Co-Active coaches training, I truly thought it would be a walk in the park compared to what my day to day often through at me. I had confidence that this wouldn’t be that hard. With one hour of being in coaches training, I found it to be one of the most challenging training's I had ever undertaken. Coaching is harder because it’s not about offering advice and solutions, it’s about being completely present with another person, using deep listening and powerful questions to evoke transformative moments.
Yeah, but I have friends who listen and ask good questions already. Of course, we all do. And our human nature is also to subconsciously listen for the things we can connect to in each other’s stories and experiences. Then we put our lens, feelings, experiences and knowledge onto that story. When this happens, the story no belongs to the storyteller; it becomes a new version of their story with some of our authorship.
In Co-Active coaching, we talk about level one, two and three listening. Level I is what we do every day when we listen to those things the other person is sharing, but our focus and attention goes to what it means to us personally. We hear others experiences but put our meaning on them. Level II listening is sharply focused on the other person, listening for not only their words, but also their emotions, body language, how things are being said, and more. When I’m working with a client, I’m listening at level II, looking for that moment when they light up or energy dramatically drops. All of these things are clues to something deeper that is going on. Level III is listening on an environmental level, being able to read people and the environment, and adjust accordingly.
Let’s go back to this level II for a second though. Imagine you and a great friend are at your favorite meeting place. You begin to describe a recent experience you had trying something you had been wanting to do for a long time, trapeze school (it’s a real thing, y’all, and it’s AWESOME—see, what I did there… level I). Your friend listens intently as you describe the feeling of the first time you jumped off the platform and grabbed the bar. The feeling of flying in the air, hooking your knees over the cold bar, and the rush of adrenaline as you removed your hands. Oh my gosh, your friend says, how did it feel? Well, the bar felt gritty and cold, like it was covered in the chalk you see in a gymnastics meet to help us hold on. And I could feel the cool air as I jumped off of the platform; I was so scared that I wouldn’t be able to put my knees over the bar, and then let go, but I did it and stretched backwards upside-down. Yeah, UPSIDEDOWN! Wow, your friend says, how did you feel? And you go on and on about the feeling of hitting the bouncy net below and somersaulting off the net onto the cool, dry earth below. And the absolute ADRENALINE rush as the teachers removed your harness while you looked back at the bar still swinging high in the air with the piercing blue sky in the background and all of your fellow classmates high-fiving and cheering you on.
Never did your friend insert how they once wanted to go to trapeze school. Or how they saw a trapeze artist at a circus. Or how they could never have the bravery to even think about doing that. They didn’t interject their own fear of heights. Your friend simply asked more questions to be fully present with you and understand more as you shared this moment of elation. That’s level II listening, one of the most powerful tools in coaching.
When was the last time someone listened to you at level II? What did it feel like? Imagine what this deep listening coupled with powerful questions could unlock for you. Are you getting more curious about coaching? Learn more on our webpage, or consider clicking "Get In Touch" on the menu above to schedule a free sample session. Experience what it’s like to be deeply heard.
More coaching superpowers to come!