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The Art of Active Listening

written byErickson Coaching Internationalon 10/03/2015

The International Coach Federation (ICF) lists one of its core competencies in coaching, and part of the credentialing process, as active listening. Active listening is defined as:  

“The ability to focus completely on what the client is saying and is not saying, to understand the meaning of what is said in the context of the client's desires, and to support client self-expression.”

Do you ever find that, when you’re talking with someone, you’re planning your response before they've even finished their sentence, thought or opinion?  

That’s what we call “Level One” listening - where you’re listening but in a distracted, less engaged manner. While you can still have a great conversation with someone, you can potentially have a much more valuable one if you focus on adjusting your listening style.  

Doing that involves moving to a new level of listening where one focuses their complete attention on the client, avoiding all distractions and really paying attention to the language being used by the person talking.  

Active Listening In Coaching  

In "The Art & Science of Coaching", part of the learning process is understanding the different levels of listening with regards to engaging and connecting with a client in such a way that enables them to reach their own outcomes and move forward in their sessions.  

When a coach attends to the client, guiding them through the conversation with powerful, exploring, open-ended questions, and uses the client’s own language to reinforce their goals, outcomes, plans, etc. it is active, or “Level Two”, listening. This allows the client to lead the conversation and identify their own outcomes or desired goals. The coach can then help them set actionable steps that will start work toward achieving those goals.  
Active listening plays a huge role in ensuring the conversation is client-centered and focused.  

Active Listening As A Leader  

Being in the moment with the person you are talking to is key to having a positive, results-focused conversation. Active listening can help any conversation we choose to have - when we listen closely, pay attention and really hear what our partner is saying, we can delve into a conversation that flows back and forth with ease, interesting questions, and genuine responses.  

The Center for Creative Leadership has a great podcast on “The Big 6: An Active Listening Skill Set” outlining what it takes to be a good listener and how we can continually work to contribute to an active listening repertoire.  

By becoming better listeners, we can become better leaders and better coaches.