Do you know what, there are many, many reasons why life coaching works so incredibly effectively to transform health, life and happiness (another post there to come I think!) but there is one that has really stood out for me this week. I read a very powerful quote and it just rocked my world. It is this:
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
– Stephen Covey. 1932 –2012. Author, Speaker. Educator. Businessman.
I think one of the foundational reasons why coaching is so effective is because it is a process of active, truly active and empathetic listening. When I am coaching I am 101% with that person. And you do you know what I think, that kind of attention is incredibly rare these days and that’s why it makes such an enormous difference.
When I look back at other jobs I might have been saying “Yes John, great suggestion, let’s get those other stakeholders informed”, but I would be present and listening to John with probably only 50% of my attention. The other 50% was spilt between trying to get a bit of airtime to say what I wanted to say, and the rest taken up with distracted stream of consciousness that went something like “good lord he is such a pompous ass. How did he get this job? Who knows. Must get out of here on time, want to get to the supermarket. Must ring Mum and Dad tonight, ask how that theatre trip went…” That stream of consciousness was at least 25% of my attention, and the other 25% was me listening just for the gap where I could jump in with my own stuff. I would be interrupting like crazy in order to try and get my point in. I don’t think I am unusual or alone in that. I think that’s the pretty much the norm. We are all busy. We are all multitasking like Mo Fo’s. We have split attention pretty much most of the time. We have stuff to say and we want to get it said!
Coaching is SO different from this. When I coach my full mind and every cell of my body is focused on what the client is saying, not even a small bit is thinking “mmmm, whats for dinner” like before. I am completely 101% present. Completely focused on what they need. I’m not trying to talk about, or even think about my stuff, at all, I’m completely focused on their stuff. It’s a completely different level of attention, and it creates a completely different type of experience. There is no going through the motions or trying to force a space so I can reply.
It’s occurred to me that the amount of time in life when we actually get 100% of someone’s attention is actually disturbingly rare. I used to have a friend who was extraordinary adept at turning the conversation back to herself. Literally, two degrees of conversational separation, every time. One minute it would be “How are you?” with one perfunctory follow up question I have barely answered, and bam, social niceties satisfied we would back into her stuff again. I am not sure she ever really heard a word I said. She was so focused on getting to say her stuff that my stuff felt like the warm up act for her stuff.
Obviously there are always ebbs and flows in a friendship, but watch for the pattern. If someone is only listening to you in order to find a neat segue for their own stuff, well, that’s not really listening is it? It’s cueing. It’s listening for a cue to get your own stuff in there. I know I have been guilty of this all too often too. Listening purely with the intent to reply, and interrupting like crazy. Cueing is not listening. It’s very much the poor cousin of listening. It’s second class listening.
Here’s the thing: there is soooooo much gold when we stop and truly listen. When we dig below the surface, even just a little bit. I see people blossom before my eyes just from having someone listen to them wholeheartedly. Can we do this all the time? No, and neither do we want to, the days are short and there is much to be done, it’s just not possible to listen at 100% in every interaction. However I think there is a real argument for us to choose one interaction a day where we choose to build and deepen connection by increasing empathetic attention to 100%. Our energy and our attention are gifts and taking the time to really listen can transform people. Feeling truly heard by another human being is an increasingly rare experience in our increasingly digital and sound bite driven world. But when it happens, it feels amazing.
Here are some active listening questions to get you started:
Tell me more about that?
That sounds really interesting. What was the best/worst moment?
Wow. That’s fascinating. Tell me more about how that happened/why you chose to do that?
What happens next for you with that/him/her? What would you like to have happen?
Once a day, select someone special to bestow the gift of your attention. Challenge yourself to dig down and ask a minimum of 3 follow up questions, not the obligatory one. Listen. Really listen. Not just with your ears. Listen with your heart and your soul. When we really listen it’s amazing what we can hear.
I’d love to listen to what you have to say, have a great week.