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What to listen for if you are coaching your staff, your child or your protege?

Updated on November 30, 2012

Listening skills

Listening, or more importantly active listening is a very important skill for a coach. I like to think of listening as listening not just with your ears, but also with your eyes as well. What this means is listening not just to the words, but also listen to the tone of voice, the emotion and the body language of the coachee.

What do you actually listen for as a coach? You don’t just listen passively but listen beyond the words that are uttered by the coachee. The following guideline is useful to keep in mind when you listen:

Listen for information

What are the issues?

What is the coachee’s motivation to change?

How difficult is the situation for the coachee?

How committed is the coachee?

Listen for emotions/feelings

How is the coachee feeling?

How aware is the coachee of his/her feelings?

To what extent does the coachee trust me?

How is the coachee expressing his/her feelings?

Listen for potential

Does the coachee feel the coaching goal is achievable?
Is the coachee motivated to achieve the goal?

What strengths does the coachee have?

What character strength does the coachee possess?

Listen for values and beliefs

What are some of the coachee’s core values and beliefs?

Are there any self-limiting beliefs (e.g. I must succeed at everything I do, People must treat me fairly, I could never do…, If only.. .If I want things done, I have to do it myself, If only they could…)

These are the typical listening skills one needs to develop as a coach. The coach listens actively and then responds accordingly with follow up questions or reflecting back to the coachee during the coaching conversation.


Responding to the coachee

Active listening therefore involves responding appropriately to the coachee – it may be a follow up question, or statement, an acknowledgement or simply nodding in silence. These skills1 can be also be classified in the following manner:

Attending skills – this could involve use of phrases like “I see”, “ Right”, “I hear you”. Body language of the coach is also an attending skill such as nodding, eye contact and placing oneself not directly in front of the coachee , but at 90 degress to him or her.

Encouraging skills – this is encouraging the coachee to elaborate on his/her thoughts.

E.g. Can you tell me how you feel about it?

Would you like to say something else?

Clarifying skills – sometimes the coach needs to clarify because he is unsure what the coachee is saying. This can also be used to ask for more specifics

E.g. If I understand you correctly, what you’re saying is…

Could you give me an example..

Could you say more?

Could you tell me more about that

Can we talk a bit more about that

Reflecting skills – this is like paraphrasing what you heard so that the coachee can hear for himself what he has just said from another person. This act of reflecting provides the coachee the opportunity to reflect and what was just said. It’s also often useful for the coach to reflect the feeling or emotion in what the coachee just said in the coach’s own words. This often leads to insights.

E.g. This sounds like..

You’re thinking that…

You’re saying that..

You believe that..

I sense a bit of anxiety…

Summarizing skills - this is to summarise what the coachee has said, or to sum up the coaching session. Summarising is also a form of reflection for the coachee and gives a sense of closure to the session.

E.g. I’d like to recap what we just covered

In summary…

Just to sum up…

To find out more about questioning skills, goto Questioning skills


1 Adapted from The Coaching at Work Toolkit by Perry Zeus and Suzanne Skiffington

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