Being the Best Coach or Mentor You Can Be 7: I Hear What You Say

The quality of your listening as a coach or mentor will determine the level of your success

How often have you heard somebody say the words ‘I hear what you say’ and shrugged your shoulders in disbelief? Words which should have the profoundest of meaning have become a popular saying which is commonly understood to mean exactly the opposite . . .

‘I know you are speaking but I am not listening to a word!’

This is why coaching will be found by your clients to be so powerful. It is likely to have been a rare occasion when they will have felt truly listened to. When they have felt that they are in a space where they are able to concentrate on their own agenda and be supported to do this without somebody else’s agenda intervening.

It is the quality of your listening as a coach or mentor which, without a doubt, will frame the quality of your coaching or mentoring relationship and the ultimate success of your work.

The impact of your ‘exquisite’ listening

. . . will often generate an intensity of experience and depth of learning which will be reflected back in your evaluations. In my own coaching and mentoring practice I have found this to be one of the areas which has generated the most comments – both in verbal and in written feedback. While the experience has not always been ‘felt’ to be comfortable, perhaps because of its rarity or sharpness of focus, it has always been seen as positive and an important part of the process.

On a day to day basis most of our communication is functional and a vehicle for us to say what we want to say. We are taught not to interrupt – and while most of us manage to work to that rule externally in our heads we are interrupting all the time!

Most people do not listen at a deep level

We often scan what is being said, picking up the salient points and gaining a general sense of the words. Our minds often wander and sometimes we disconnect while we try to process the words, put on our own interpretation and become distracted by what we are going to say next.

In every day listening we pay attention to the words being spoken – what you say and what I say – while in reality we . . .

  • hear what we want to hear
  • fail to put ourselves in others’ shoes
  • think we know what people are talking about
  • listen to the words but miss the emotions
  • make up our mind before people finish
  • think what we want to say while people are talking

While most people have heard – and even use – the term ‘Active Listening’ very few people develop the skills to do this in a concentrated way. As a coach it is the bedrock upon which you build the coaching and mentoring relationship.

Active listening involves reflexivity

. . . which I’ve explored previously (Blog: To Reflect or Reflex? . . . That is the question!) and the paying of rapt attention to what is being said both in respect of the words spoken and the non-verbal signals. It requires cognitive skills that enable you, for example, to recall related issues and to ask questions that penetrate to a deep level and which provide the appropriate challenge.

When you really listen to your client they will open up. You have provided an environment within which they feel safe and secure and within which trust between you can grow. The quality of listening and attention allows them to free up their own thinking and find their own answers.

In ‘Time to Think’, Nancy Kline sums this up beautifully . . .

‘Listening of this calibre ignites the human mind. The quality of your
attention determines the quality of the other person’s thinking’


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