The Power of Listening in Problem Solving

the power of listeningThe power of listening was demonstrated to me recently as a friend of mine related a conversation he’d overhead at a coffee shop between a father and daughter seated at the next table. “He was lecturing her on the classic father-daughter stuff,” Mark recalls. “You’re spending too much money, you aren’t focused on your education, etc. etc. It was so painful. All she wanted was for him to ask her, ‘What are your goals? What do you want out of life?’ He was raising his voice with her, she was in tears—it was really ugly. I believe that father genuinely wanted the best for his daughter, but he didn’t know how to get there.” He had not discovered the power of listening.

If you had asked this father what needed to happen, he would probably have said something like this: “If she would just listen to me things would work out so much better!” And if you asked the daughter what ought to change, no doubt she’d say, “Why doesn’t he ever listen to what I want?” They’re having a conversation, but nobody is really listening.

Becoming a great coach requires developing an extraordinary ability to listen; understanding and implementing the power of listening. I often find myself telling coaches-in-training, “Don’t try to figure out the client’s problem—just listen! The power of listening is that the client will tell you the answer. You just need to be listening intently enough to pick up on it.” When trainees do focus in on listening instead of trying to think up an awesome question or reply, they are always amazed at how well it works. People really can solve their own problems.

At first glance listening may seem passive, but it is actually a powerful tool for solving problems. What often holds people back is not a lack of insight, but a lack of confidence in their own ideas or an inability to put them into words. The act of listening affirms and empowers people to express themselves with confidence. When you listen consistently and intently, the message you are sending is, “You are important! What you are saying is important. You are a person of great worth, and what you are saying is worth listening to. I believe you can figure this out.” That is the power of listening! When you express confidence in your clients’ abilities by listening, they will start believing in themselves, too. That alone is often enough to get someone unstuck.

But listening does even more. One of our biggest weaknesses in problem solving is that we aren’t very rational when it comes to our own lives. When someone else is going through a tough time, I can step back and examine it dispassionately. For example, if a friend has lost a job, it’s easy to say, “Don’t worry! It will all work out!”

But when I am the one that is out on the street, it’s a little more of a challenge to believe that everything is under control! When I am trying to think through my own problems, my emotions, perceived limitations or past disappointments cloud the picture and I easily get stuck. My rational abilities play tug-of-war with my emotions until I’m mentally exhausted.

However, when I sit down with a friend who is really listening, something master_coach_seriesmagical happens. As he listens patiently, asks questions, and helps me to look at my situation from other angles, the truth comes into focus. My objective and subjective insights begin to mesh. I push through the fog of emotions or preconceptions; until suddenly I break out of the box I’m in and see the solution clearly. When we verbalize our thoughts to someone else who is listening, we think more clearly and confidently than we do alone–the power of listening.

Tony Stoltzfus is a best-selling author, leadership coach, master coach trainer and director of the Leadership Metaformation Institute. For more information on Tony’s best-selling coaching books go to