Listening is the first of the four key elements of the coaching conversation. Every coaching relationship starts with listening, because it is through the power of listening that we learn to know who our clients are and what is on their hearts. The act of listening creates a great environment for change.
In our culture it’s easy to go through life stating our own ideas or exchanging impersonal information while rarely having a real, intimate dialogue with anyone. Many of our conversations are simply two monologues; ships passing in the night (or maybe ICBMs passing in the stratosphere) as each person tries to get their point across. When we focus on our agenda and don’t invest the effort to really listen to the person we are conversing with we lose the chance to be really heard.
All of us want to be heard. We long to be accepted, to be known, to be valued for who we are. That human desire is so powerful that we find it very difficult to receive a critique from someone we feel doesn’t accept us. We react to the person instead of responding to the facts that are presented.
Have you ever rejected out of hand a criticism from one person, and then shortly thereafter accepted the same rebuke from another, when the only difference was that the second person was a friend and the first wasn’t? Our ability to hear depends on who is speaking. Likewise, our ability to change and to operate at our maximum creativity and productivity is highly dependent on being in a supportive environment. This leads to an interesting insight about human beings:
Expressing acceptance and belief in a person often brings about faster growth than pointing out what is wrong.
Listening communicates value and acceptance. People are most open to being influenced by those who accept and value them. Therefore, learning to listen deeply, intently and intuitively is absolutely vital to influencing others. Listening is a powerful tool for changing lives, because the acceptance it communicates frees people to grapple with the message instead of getting hung up on their relationship with the messenger.
Tony Stoltzfus is a best-selling author, leadership coach, master coach trainer and director of the Leadership Metaformation Institute. Additional information on the power of listening in the coaching relationship can be found in Tony’s book,Leadership Coaching.