With more than 25 years of coaching and mentoring under my belt, I´ve discovered that there´s one soft skill every truly great coach needs to perfect.
Do you know what it is?
Let me give you a hint…
Most people do not listen with the intent to understand. They listen with the intent to reply. Most people stop listening as soon as they think they know what you’re saying, so that they can start formulating their response. When this happens, they naturally do not hear everything being said during the conversation at hand.
Everyone thinks they´re listening. You may think you ́re listening. Chances are though, you´re not really.
Proactive listening on multiple levels is, quite simply, an art; an art that each of us should aim to master...and a soft skill seldom taught anywhere in our hectic, forward-moving, busy world.
Let me ask you this...
Who do you know that is a great listener? Who do you know that really listens to you, on a deep level? How do you regard people you perceive to be great listeners?
The truly effective coach is one who masters the soft skill of listening; one who listens to someone and picks up on their present state just from listening to the tone, the cadence and the speed that they are talking; one who learns from the silences & the pauses.
Exploring The #1 Soft Skill For Successful Coaching
In the first four levels of listening, our attention is focused inward, while in the final four, it is focused on the other person. This is the key difference between fully attentive listening and limited listening.
By focusing completely on the other person, your level of service to them as well as to yourself and the much bigger picture on the periphery will be greatly increased and significantly higher.
Self-Focused Listening Skills
Low-level listening is when we are distracted by anything while talking to another person. And that distractedness can quite often lead the other person to feel like they are being ignored.
I'm sure you've experienced a situation like this…
You are speaking to someone and they keep looking at their phone. Or, you are giving a presentation and people in the room start talking among themselves. Or, you are speaking with someone on the phone and all you are getting in response is a series of hmmm, ahhh, yeahs...like they are not really paying attention to what you have to say.
SOFT SKILL TUNING TIP #1
Take some time in your day-to-day life to do a bit of self-introspection. Pay attention to your interactions with others.
Simply doing this will help you refocus your energies on listening with purpose rather than listening on automatic where the tendency is to tune in and out of the conversation at hand.
The second level of listening is distracted listening, which is just one scant step up from low-level listening. This is where we think we can be clever multitaskers – sending off a quick email, checking Facebook or playing a round of solitaire on the computer while talking to someone else. The problem is…
Even if we´re not completely sure, we all sense when the person we´re talking to is not 100% there for us.
SOFT SKILL TUNING TIP #2
Observe yourself over the next few days and answer the following question:
What distracts me internally or externally and takes my attention away from the person I am talking to?
This is where we pay attention to the speaker as long as they are talking about things we like or agree with. You could even call it selective listening.
When the speaker moves on to topics we find less interesting, we often find ourselves slipping back into distracted-listening mode, or we may even ignore the speaker altogether.
SOFT SKILL TUNING TIP #3
Over the next few days, observe where you start off well and where you lose your way when certain subjects or themes come up in conversation.
This is when, while we are carefully listening to the other person, we are simultaneously trying to decide whether they are right or wrong, whether we agree or disagree with them, and what we are going to say in response.
SOFT SKILL TUNING TIP #4
Make an effort to notice when, instead of listening to what the other person has to say, you find yourself trying to come up with an answer. Then, refocus your attention on the person you are interacting with and the conversation at hand.
At all four of the above levels, we are listening…
And yet, it is important to remember that everything we hear is being filtered through our own belief systems, thus our focus is largely inward.
People-Focused Listening Skills
Replay listening happens when you are able to quiet your inner chatter; the continual mind talk that goes on inside each of us. This is where it becomes possible for you to completely hear what the other person is saying to such a point that you can actually paraphrase what you've heard and share it back to them without judgment or added interpretations.
Replay listening is the first level where you’re really tuning into the other person.
When you truly listen to a person - to their tone, to their cadence, to how fast or slow they speak, to their pauses and their silences - you can pick up on so many things about them and the state they are currently in.
SOFT SKILL TUNING TIP #5
Take some time to practice this by listening carefully; rephrasing what you hear and feeding it back to the person you are speaking with.
It's not necessary to do this word for word, though you do want to maintain the sense and the character of what they were saying. Once you are finished, be sure to ask for confirmation.
Empathic listening starts with teaching yourself to experience every conversation as if it was the first time you had ever heard a specific person discuss a specific situation or challenge with you, despite the fact that you may have heard it many times before.
This requires disciplining yourself to see, hear and feel a situation from the other person's perspective.
SOFT SKILL TUNING TIP #6
Aim to tune into the feeling state of the other person and then feed that feeling state back to them, in order to deepen rapport. This also helps them quiet their inner chatter by giving them the sense that they are being profoundly heard.
Examples of replaying might entail saying something like:
I hear that you are feeling frustrated because your boss will not give you a meeting today. Or, I hear that you’re angry that your children are not listening to you.
One of the greatest gifts that we can ever give another person is to profoundly hear them; to let them know that we have heard them in a significant way. We do this by replaying and feeding back to them those feeling words that they are experiencing.
This is a very sophisticated phase of listening; one which calls on us to trust the innate inner-guidance system we all have within.
It can be a struggle at times because often that belief in our own intuition has been trained out of us. While we all had it early on when we were young, at some point, we were taught to stop trusting it.
SOFT SKILL TUNING TIP #7
Be courageous in your conversations. Trust your inner guidance system to lead you and give feedback from that unique place of intuition. Be willing to say things like:
I’m not completely certain why I’m asking you this…
Why is life sending you this set of circumstances right now? Who does this person remind you of?
And, once you ́ve asked the question, be silent.
Yes, you read that right.
Let the silence build. Just leave it alone for a bit and wait for an answer. Wait for a response.
Combined Attention Listening
As the absolute highest form of listening, combined attention listening incorporates all the best components of the last three levels while, at the same time, requiring you to monitor your own internal state.
Key to effective combined attention is learning to listen with all of your senses. Make seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, touching, tasting and intuiting an integral part of every conversation you have.
SOFT SKILL TUNING TIP #8
A great way to evaluate whether you’re listening or not, in terms of your conversations, is to ask yourself internally:
Where is my focus right now?
Not only is this a good check-in for helping keep yourself focused, it is also a way of maintaining what we call split attention.
As you attend to or listen to what the other person is saying, you are also monitoring your own internal state. At the same time, you want to be aware of what's happening in the broader context of things; with respect to the room or space you are in and what else may be going on around you, for example. That's what splitting your attention is all about.
As I shared with you at the very beginning of this post, most people do not listen with the intent to understand. They listen with the intent to reply. Most people stop listening as soon as they think they know what you’re saying, so that they can start formulating their response. When this happens, they naturally do not hear everything being said during the conversation at hand.
When you really listen to a person - to their tone, to their cadence, to how fast or slow they speak, to their pauses and their silences - you can pick up on so many things about them and the state they are currently in.
There is an art to mastering the soft skill of truly attentive listening. Study it, learn from it and practice it from this day forward.
If I can support you in any way, please let me know.