7 Keys to Effective Listening During Coaching Conversations
"Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply." --Stephen R. Covey, author, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
We spend a lot of time in school learning how to communicate. We take classes in written and spoken communication such as business writing,presentations and debate. We learnt how to express ourselves. But there were hardly any classes that taught us listening skills. Listening is every bit as important as speaking as having good listening skills help you build better relationships. This is especially important when it comes to coaching employees to better performance at work. Coaching means that you have to listen to what employees say.
Here are 7 keys to effective listening during coaching conversations:
- Be prepared
For effective interviews, a good journalist does background research, prepare carefully a list of relevant questions before meeting up with the source to obtain information for his article. The same goes for a coach. You would not go into a coaching session without having an agenda or objective. Take time to look over the personnel file, performance appraisals, relevant emails or notes you have about the issue at hand. Anticipate any concerns or responses that the employee you are coaching might have. Make an outline of all the critical issues you want to discuss. Even if you could only spare 5 minutes to learn and prepare, it can make a difference between a useful coaching session or a complete waste of time for both parties. Good preparation means that you are ready to focus on listening to the needs of the individual you are coaching.
- Drop everything
"You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time." --M. Scott Peck, Author of “The Road Less Travelled”
Effective listening is about giving your fullest and undivided attention to another individual. Shuffling through a stack of papers, staring at the patterned tiles of the office floor or replying to a Whatsapp message on your mobile phone are examples of what not to do when you are listening to someone speak. While we may have picked up multitasking skills to manage our time effectively at work, we should only concentrate on doing one thing at a time when interacting with people. Doing other tasks simultaneously can undermine your communication and your actions might likely offend or annoy the other party. One wise manager had a very effective habit. As soon as someone walked into her office, she would put her phone on “Do not disturb” mode. This simple action meant that she had minimized the effect of a ringing phone and it was a clear sign of respect, giving the visitor the assurance of her time.
- Eye contact
Eye contact is part of non-verbal communication which is important during any conversation. Maintaining direct eye contact establishes a strong connection and demonstrates your focus on what the other party is saying. While we do not want to be staring at the other person the entire time, give yourself a few seconds to glance away and come back. Re-establish eye contact when you want to stress what you are saying or show the other party that you have a keen interest in what he or she is talking about. In addition, pay attention to your facial expressions too. A hard stare with a firm tight mouth or frowning might imply disapproval while a relaxed face with a hint of a smile shows that you are acknowledging the conversation and being open to the topics being discussed.
- Wait for it
Some of us have a tendency to finish others’ sentences and we can’t always control the impulse to “help out” in a conversation. First, do not assume you know where the statement will end or where the conversation is leading to. Even if you are really good at guessing where or what the other person is going to say, you are wrong to jump in. Be patient and remain focused on what the other party is saying. Most of all, avoid framing your answers to the questions you expect to get from the conversation. But what happens if you did listen to everything your employee has to say, but you still do not understand the big picture? As a coach, your goal is to facilitate effective communication, hence you will need to take the initiative to seek clarity. It does not matter whether you did not listen well or the employee did not elaborate further. You as the coach should assume the responsibility for getting the facts right.
- Take notes
While you may want to keep the conversations informal and there is no need to put everything you have discussed on record, jotting down notes can help you remember key issues and remind you of the follow-up actions to be taken after each coaching session, especially when you might have more than one coachee. Taking notes also has benefits for the person being coached as it demonstrates that he or she is being taken seriously and that the coach is committed to helping the employee get things right. Learn to take quick notes by writing in shorthand and leaving some empty spaces for yourself to fill in the blanks after the coaching session. Let the employee know that you are taking notes so that you can keep up with the conversation at an appropriate pace.
- Acknowledge feelings
People differ vastly in the emotions and feelings that they allow themselves to express in the workplace. Most of us would prefer not to show any feelings entirely. However in a coaching session, your conversation with your employee may well go beyond facts and figures and into feelings. Frustration can lead people to “tip over” and vent their unhappiness or bad feelings. When that happens, don’t ignore their feelings. Acknowledge them by saying:
-“You sound angry, Tell me about it”
-“You seem quite upset. Perhaps you could tell me what else is going on?”
-“I can tell that you are frustrated by this. Why don’t you tell me what you think about it?”
It is also important to bear in mind the point about not assuming anything until you have heard the full story. By acknowledging their feelings, you are sending a message that their feeling is important and that it is natural to experience emotions at work too.
7. Allow for silence
Silence between 2 individuals, especially in an office setting, can be quite intimidating. But a pause for reflection shows respect and allows the employee to give a response that is accurate of what he thinks rather than a fast answer. Silence can be uncomfortable, and some of us will rush to fill the void, rather than using it to think or reflect on what’s being said. According to Donal Carbaugh, a professor of communication at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, “Silence can be a very powerful focal point for understanding ourselves, understanding others, for developing better mutual understanding and more productive outcomes and that applies to business, politics, education, law, medicine, every realm of human life.” If you feel that you have gotten a rushed reply, give them space and try asking other questions that return to probe the point. More often than not, the real answer will emerge from the conversation.
We hope that this article is helpful. Do you have any tips you would like to add?
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