Active listening is the bedrock of life coaching. Listening from a life coaching perspective involves listening for the sake of the other person. It is not simply gathering the information your client is talking about but actively applying empathy and curiosity toward your client. It is trying to get completely into your client’s world and listen with childlike wonderment and curiosity.
Does the coach use questions unique to the client and the client’s situation?
The ICF wants to avoid formulaic or automatic questions in a script. Coaching is fluid, and your ability to connect with your client on a human-to-human basis is integral to the power of coaching. It’s best practice to make the questions unique to the client and use a word or two from what the client just said.
Does the coach ask the client about the client’s use of language?
The ICF is looking for you to ask your client something about word choice or usage. For example, saying, “You just mentioned the word ‘should’ in that sentence,” would make the assessor supremely happy. You could follow that observation with a short, crisp, powerful question to bring the assessor to higher heights of coaching joy, such as, “What stopped you from fully embracing the action?”
The idea here is to listen to your client so closely that specific words, and the emotion behind the words, begin to jump out to you. By asking permission to examine or look at such a specific instance, you also let your client know how closely you listen.
Does the coach ask about a client’s emotions?
The ICF wants you to ask about your client’s feelings. However, they prefer for coaches to speak in terms of “emotions.” Use the word “emotion” to make sure you get a checkmark in this column. For example, “What emotions are present now?” or “What emotions came up then?” would suffice.
Does the coach ask about a client’s tone of voice, talking speed, or inflection in a curious, not disrespectful, way?
The benchmark here is pretty straightforward. The ICF points to the skill of increasing your listening to such a high degree that even sighs or long pauses catch your attention. You can demonstrate a high degree of active listening by allowing your curiosity to explore such tiny and perhaps fleeting moments or subtle changes in the pace or rhythm of a client’s speech.
Does the coach ask about the client’s behaviors?
As a coach, your role is to provide questions and reflections that help your client better understand their behavior, especially that which might be holding them back from achieving their goals. You could ask something like, “How is this behavior influencing your daily goals?” I would use the word behavior rather than action. The word “action” doesn’t always map onto the actual behavior of your clients. Staying in bed, for example, is a behavior but not much of an action.
Does the coach ask how the client perceives their world?
Perspective plays such a powerful role in our choices and behavior, yet most of the time, perspectives go unexplored. We all have certain default perspectives and reactions to situations that help us make sense of the world. Active listening is exploring your client’s perspectives and not simply assuming that you share the same perspective as your client. This is not about judging your client’s viewpoint or trying to get your client to adopt a new or different one. Your job is simply to explore and become curious about how your client perceives the world.
Does the coach pause?
The irony of coaching is that the less you talk, the more value your client gets. The hallmark of the pause is when you sit and let the pause remain. The client finishes a thought, and you get into a pause. You sense your client is comfortable and still thinking. The last few words your client said still echo in your mind. You still pause. The next question begins to formulate in your mind. You hold the pause for one more second, and then your client starts a new thought that seems to answer the question you just had in your mind. Pauses can be transformative moments.
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