Marilyn Atkinson is the Founder of Erickson Coaching International and originator of the Solution-Focused Coaching methodology. A former Registered Organizational Psychologist, Marilyn is an NLP Master Trainer and specialist in Ericksonian Communications. Since 1980s she has been helping leading global companies and leaders through Solution- Focused and Outcome-Oriented Coaching. Marilyn has authored eight books, including The Art & Science of Coaching trilogy (Inner Dynamics of Coaching, Step-by-Step Coaching & The Flow of Coaching).
Listening Skills of a Master Coach
Master coaches are above all masterful listeners.
Have you ever hiked along a trail, then stopped in a clearing for a moment and just listened?
Perhaps it was the birds that caught your attention and then you let your attention range out further and further till you were listening to the whole forest. This includes listening to the silences as well as the sounds.
Listening as a masterful coach is truly like this. We are listening both for our clients' values and intentions, hearing them together as a complex melody with multiple levels of meaning. This is the way a fine conductor listens to the orchestra, hearing both the violins and the bass line together.
This means that we also listen to the value directions and the growth flows of the person. This is like listening both to foreground and background in the forest and recognizing that all are the forest speaking. We allow our intuition to listen.
I very much like the International Coaching Federation (ICF) description of MCC level listening. Here it is:
"MCC Level: The coach's listening is completely attuned as a learner and listening happens at the logical, emotional, and organic level at one time. The listening is both linear and non-linear and responses from the coach evidence learning about the client at many levels… The coach recognizes both hers and the client's ability of intuitive and energetic perception that is felt when the client speaks of important things, when new growth is occurring for the client, and when the client is finding a more powerful sense of self. The coach's listening is in the present, but hearing also the client's future develop. The coach hears the totality of the client's greatness and gifts as well as limiting beliefs and patterns. The coach's listening is cumulative from session to session and throughout each individual session."
This kind of listening requires a conscious commitment to coach position at the start, and an inner agreement to put on the "hat " of the coach by visualizing both it and its 'color' as the color of whole value awareness. We need to clear our mind and attune to both our own and the client's deep resources and in this way hear both the birds and the forest itself.
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Compare this description to the ICF description of PCC level listening and even ACC level listening:
"ACC Level: Coach hears what client says and responds to it, but only at obvious and surface level. In general, coach will evidence attachment to "what's the problem", "how do I help fix it", and "how do I give value in fixing it".
"PCC Level: Coach is doing listening on a very conscious level. The listening is focused on the client's agenda and can change direction if the client changes direction. The direction change may or may not be best for the topic at hand. The coach is focused on what client is saying, but more from the perspective of gathering information that fits into coach's particular tool or discovery model. Listening tends to be more linear and concentrates on content of words. Coach is listening for answers, next question to ask, or looking for what to do with what they hear and will try to fit what they hear into a model they understand. They will often respond out of that model rather than client's model. Listening will include some depth, but often will miss key nuances that a master level coach catches. Listening tends to be session by session versus cumulative."
The wonderful thing about masterful listening is that we can all do it and even have a habit for it from early childhood that we only need to consciously appreciate. We all have done 'deep forest listening' at least a few times in our life. Find a bit of woods or park and do it today… you can build the awareness immediately.
Ask your inner self for a deep listening color and an aura for that quality and simply put on the hat. Perhaps cloak yourself in the color as you settle into coach position with your client. Colors are a powerful way to declare a commitment. Then just relax and listen. Notice that as you wear this color your intuition and listening are closely connected and your questions also become natural and intuitive. Simply enjoy your client. You are listening to their whole forest of mind…. and the birds as well.