Listening in coaching relationships is one of the three most important disciplines of believing in people, (asking questions, and keeping responsibility with the client are the other two). One of my personal commitments as a coach is to be “all there” in my appointments. I don’t want any interference that sets my mind wandering when I’m listening to my clients; so I’ve systematically removed distractions from my environment; and I make sure to take time before each call to center in so I don’t drag my own agenda into the appointment. Genuine, I’m-100%-here-right-now listening sends a message to the client: “You are so very important, and what you are saying is so valuable, that I am going to put aside all my own thoughts and everything that is going on in my life just to focus on YOU.” To really listen is to say in unmistakable language, “I believe in you.” Listening is believing in people.
No question, listening in coaching relationships like that is a discipline—I’ve worked on it for years. The interesting thing is, the more I listen the more I believe in people, and the more I want to listen. There have been so many coaching appointments when I’ve thought the problem was simple and I had the solution. But because I was disciplined enough to bite my tongue and listen, I witnessed the client create an elegant, effective solution I wouldn’t have thought of in a million years.
I remember one thorny, emotional situation where I was ready to put a full-court press on the client to make a change—and then he solved the whole problem by putting a post-it note on his steering wheel. That never would have worked for me! I’ve had clients who’ve shouldered what I saw as a crushing workload and flourished, or (I thought) didn’t have what it took to start a business and went out and succeeded anyway. If I would have stopped listening and told these people what to do, I never would have witnessed what they were capable of doing. The more I listen to people, the more reason I have to stop talking and listen to what they have to say.
Tony Stoltzfus is a best-selling author, leadership coach and master coach trainer, and director of the Leadership Metaformation Institute. Additional information on the role of questions in the coaching relationship can be found in Tony’s book, Leadership Coaching.