Part # 1: Levels of Listening
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Levels of Listening
Listening – the ability to truly hear someone – is central to communication and binds society together. As a coach, listening skills are crucial, and so much of coaching is based on the quality of your listening.
In coaching, listening goes beyond paying attention and examines the perspective from which the coach is listening to the client. The perspective that the coach takes has a huge impact on the client who is speaking. These different perspectives make up the three levels of listening:
Level 1 is listening from a first person perspective and emphasizes the thoughts, feelings and opinions of the person who is doing the listening. Human beings are very good at listening in level 1.
When we are listening from the first person point of view, we often ask ourselves, “How does this apply to me?” or think, “That reminds me of that one time when I did the same thing. Look we have something in common!”
Listening from the first person perspective is completely normal, and there are definitely times in our lives when it is useful to reflect on our own needs and opinions. However, as a life coach, level 1 is not the most effective way to listen.
Level two listening, or empathetic listening, is paying attention to the words that someone else is saying and considering an opinion or situation from their point-of-view.
Empathetic listening requires that you listen and ask yourself the question, “How does what this person is saying apply to them?” In a life coaching situation, it is as if you have taken yourself out of the equation and you are merely a mirror for your client to explore areas that they have not yet considered.
This deep level of listening is the simple, yet powerful, foundation of life coaching. Human beings rarely experience others listening to them so intently. Empathetic listening invites curiosity and acceptance, rather than advice or judgement, and the coach creates a “safe space” for a client to explore their thoughts and actions when they are solely focused on understanding her or his point of view.
Which level do we use in coaching?
The most effective coaching takes place in level 2. Using empathetic listening skills will open up new pathways and opportunities for you to build stronger relationships and use all of the other life coaching skills. There is certainly a time and place for level 1 listening, but in coaching, it is important to focus on and hone your level 2 listening skills.
Ask someone if you can practice a life coaching exercise. Let them know that it is easy and will only take about 3 to 5 minutes of their time.
Start by asking them a question to prompt a story, such as:
- What was one of the best days of your life?
- What’s one of your favorite things to do?
- What have you always dreamed of doing?
Listen empathetically. Focus completely on what the other person is saying. If you find yourself not focused on your practice client or if your mind is drifting off on your own thoughts, what you are going to say next, or your own experience, deliberately recover back to empathetic listening.
To keep the conversation going, you can ask these kinds of follow-up questions:
- What was important to you about that day? How does it make you feel to think about that day?
- What else do you enjoy doing? How do these activities make you feel?
- What stopped you from pursuing this? Why did it stop you?
In general, you will find that questions like this will really keep the person talking, and your attention will keep them active in the subject matter.
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