COACHING AND PEOPLE MANAGEMENT – 10 TIPS FOR ACTIVE LISTENING WHILE COACHING

“The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” (Ralph Nichols, founder of the International Listening Association a professional organization formed in 1979 to promote the study, development, and teaching of effective listening in all settings)
 
How many of us feel like we are really listened to – that people really get what we are saying? Did you know that we allow less than five seconds to our discussion partner to answer to our question? Did you know that we usually only recall 50 percent of what we have heard immediately after listening to someone talk? No wonder that most people do not feel like they are heard…
 
Coaching is a different type of conversation than those we have on a day-to-day basis. When coaching, the manager is listening intently to what the team member is saying and feeling. It is not a two-way conversation as such. Rather, the focus is on and all about the team member. The manager mainly listens, s/he encourages the team member to speak. If something different is happening, you are probably not really coaching, you may be mentoring or counseling, or simply bossing – imposing your point of view and way of doing.
 
The primary purpose of listening is to truly understand the other person’s point of view, how they think, what is their vision on the subject. A good manager is listening for what truly inspires a team member, lightens them up, excites them, frees them, and keeps them from resignation.
 
When a manager is coaching a team member, s/he is listening for not just what the team member is saying, but also for what they are not saying, how they are saying it e.g. what feelings and emotions are expressed or withheld. It is important to listen the tone and rhythm of the team member’s speech. Any variation from the normal can be an indication that needs attention: faster than usual pace and higher tone may indicate excitement, a slow monotonous tone may indicate a lack of enthusiasm, a higher rhythm, tone and lack of ability to match breathing to speech may indicate anxiety etc. Just listen for them.
 
As said, the manager is also interested in what their team members are NOT saying as much as in what they are saying. The team member does not always tell you everything that is happening. Listening for subtle changes in voice, avoidance of questions or a change in subject can be very revealing. If a team member starts to get aggravated or angry, you are most likely touching on something. Very gently, ask the team member more questions. Let her/him know what you are really hearing, and ask if there is something more they want to say about it.
 
The practice of “active listening” has been used extensively in counseling and educational fields for over fifteen years now, although its exact origin is unknown. Even though many people believe that they understand and apply it in their life and work, to truly listen is harder than it at first appears. The best way to describe the “active listening” is to describe what it is not: active listening is not listening until the other person has stopped talking so we can share our thoughts with them. Rather, active listening is truly attending to and “tuning in” to the person talking.
 
Most of us think that we listen, yet we do not always “attend” to the person speaking to us. We are too busy doing other things, or thinking about things, while others are talking to us. Often times we are composing our reply in our head while the other person is talking. Our focus is on how we will reply to them, not to what they are actually saying. Other times we are entertaining judgments, opinions, or even beliefs about someone or something that is being said – while they are talking!
 
Here are 10 tips on what a manager can do to actively listen the team members while coaching them:  

  1. Remain silent when someone speaks: It is extremely difficult to receive information when your mouth is moving and making noise. This sounds simple, but it is easier to say and harder to do. Even reassuring or consoling, while appropriate in non-coaching environments, can be counter-productive in a coaching conversation as this may prevent the team member from describing accurately his or her situation.
  2. Give the speaker your complete attention: Avoid distracting behaviors, interruptions or visual stimulation.
  3. Paraphrase: Verify what you are hearing by repeating it back in your own words. A specific example of this might be: “What I heard you say was…” When you can repeat back what the team member has just said, shows the team member that you have truly heard them. The team member will feel understood and welcomed by your listening. S/he will also get a fresh view on his/her ideas.
  4. Finding the right dosage of paraphrasing: Knowing exactly how and when to paraphrase in a conversation is a very powerful skill that can be developed over time through concentration and practice. It is important, , to paraphrase whole concepts or major points in the conversation. If you paraphrase every small part of a conversation, it can unnecessarily slow the team member down and become a tedious distraction. The extent to which you paraphrase will also vary from team member to team member and from issue to issue. For example, if someone is telling you about something quite complex and hard to follow, you may want to paraphrase regularly. Also, if someone is feeling very emotional, they may need the extra support that comes from knowing that they have been really heard and understood, so they may need you to paraphrase more frequently.
  5. Check Perceptions: Checking perception is similar to paraphrasing with one important distinction: perception checking is about feelings rather than concepts. The focus is on checking what you perceive to be the emotions that motivate the team member’s communication. The concern is not what the team member communicates in words, as much as it is the emotion conveyed by their tone of voice. Managers can miss many of the emotional dimensions of a conversation if they are not listening for what is NOT being said. Consequently, they can miss what the team member’s personal reaction to the event is and how they really feel about it. If the feeling is missed, we lose the opportunity to sense the unique situation of the team member. Feelings help us sort out data, organize it, and use it effectively as we shape and share relevant feedback. As a manager, you can reflect feelings back to the team member. You may say things such as:
    ● “It sounds as if you are feeling….”
    ● “You seem really upset, excited, overwhelmed about….”
    ● “I’m hearing a lot of emotion in your voice when you say X, can you tell me some more, about that?”
    But very important, you have to give the team member the opportunity to confirm or disagree with your reflections of their feelings. This, too, will allow the team member to feel truly heard.
  6. Waiting: Wait few seconds before replying to what the team member has just said. So often, we jump in and interrupt the conversation before the person has finished speaking. Allow the team member to have the space to finish their thoughts and feelings. There is an acronym that coaches sometimes use to remind themselves to wait. It is W.A.I.T. and stands for “Why Am I Talking?” Sometimes, an extended silence will prompt the team member to think more about the issue and add a detail or two. This may be important and even revealing to you as a manager, as well as to the team member. You may find that it takes time and effort to train yourself into allowing your team member a few extra moments to compose their thoughts. You may also find that your team members, due to their own cultural conditioning, interpret this silence as something negative, such as not listening or not understanding what they have said. If this is the case, you may need to explain the strategy to them. Alternatively, you could begin with a standard response time when speaking with them and then slowly increase the listening wait time, over the period that you work with them.
  7. Encouraging the team member to say more: The more the team member says, the better you can listen together. The waiting strategy alone will increase the amount of information you receive from your team members and will encourage them to dig deeper into what is really going on. Using phrases such as: “Can you elaborate?” or “Is there anything else you want to say about that?” will also often support team members to explore more.
  8. Helping the team member to get to the point: Some of your team members might have a natural tendency of giving too many details. To get them back on track we can ask few questions like:
    “How does that apply?”
    “How does that fit with what we were discussing?”
    “That is interesting, however let’s get back to what we were talking about.”
    Or simply let them talk, but ask them to summarize, you may say something like:
    “Could you please reformulate what you just said in one phrase?”
    “Can you help me to get the main points you are trying to make here? Can you name three of them?”
    If a team member is focusing for too long on a past issue, injury or disappointment, you may need to move them to a more future focus. Support the team member in moving from worry, or anger, to a solution by saying something like:
    “Let’s link this to your current goals”
    “So what do you think the next step is?”
    “How should we proceed?”
    “What will you do this week to get this resolved?”
    If a team member is unable to move beyond a past issue, injury or disappointment, this may be a sign that they are in need of counseling or therapy, rather than coaching (or in addition to coaching). If they can’t move to a future focus, then they should be referred on to an appropriately qualified therapist. Use your intuition: Listen with the heart and pick up on all communication. Share with the team member things you are sensing and feeling. Intuition is a very powerful coaching tool. If the manager is sensing something the team member is saying, it is best to share it with them.
  9. Being empathetic and non-judgmental: When you value the team member and accept the team member’s feelings you will be able to empathize more, and to offer them the gift of being heard. Our judgments can impair our listening, so wait the end of the conversation before judging at all and share you judgment with your team member. Acknowledge that frequently we have preconceptions about what the person might say that shape the parts of the conversation that we pick up and the parts we don’t hear. We may “tune in” to the parts that are personally interesting and tune out of parts that we deem boring or repetitious, but which may be vitally important to the team member. We are not really listening to them if we allow our own opinions and judgments to shape how much we hear them.
  10. Instigate to action: Remember, discussing without a call for action is not coaching, so while it is essential that you give the team member the time and space to really be heard, the objective of coaching is moving in action.
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About yesyoucan
My name is Mariana Florea and I am an CPC - Certified Professional Coach and Aware Parenting Instructor. My mission as an Aware Parenting instructor is to help parents enjoy parenting while raising happy kids without punishments and rewards. As a Coach, I support busy professionals building successful and sustainable careers while enjoying a happy life.

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