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Coaching: The Importance of Developing Effective Listening Skills

Developing Effective Listening Skills for Coaching

Whatever approach you may choose to take, model, or elect to follow, because good coaching and development of any individual takes time, “one–off” discussions are not usually enough. You always need to be on the lookout for opportunities which give you a chance to work with the person you’re coaching (perhaps getting directly involved in the learning projects that the individual plans to undertake). In the absence of particular projects, these opportunities might take planning and time or they may be something which can be done on the spur of the moment.

Whatever the case, an effective coach should try not to miss even one opportunity to work together with another person who needs help or assistance because this is how the relationship between the coach and the individual you are coaching will be built and strengthened.

Make your coaching more effective by developing specific goals and objectives

One of the things a coach can do to make sure that both parties are getting the most out of the time invested is to develop specific goals, objectives and timeframes for the person being coached. By having goals and objectives and an agreed time to achieve them the coach avoids the pitfall of becoming lost on the coaching journey and not achieving as much as possible in getting the most from the individual concerned. By creating achievable goals which stretch the individual, the coach is working with the other person to help them to build a vision of the future – a vision of the success that he or she can achieve.

At least initially, one of the best ways to help someone build a vision of the future is to ask him or her questions so that they can start thinking about it and making it happen for themselves.

Some of the questions a coach might ask are therefore:

  • How will things be different if you’re successful?
  • What does success look like?
  • If you’ve been successful and you look around, what will you see happening?
  • What needs to change for success to happen?
  • What do you need to do differently or better?

Helping people to set goals and objectives which “stretch” their performance is very important, but the coach must be prepared to listen carefully and work with the individual, in partnership. If you want to be listened to you have to work hard at listening effectively and not talking much of the time. Think about how you feel when someone talks at you. Do you pay attention? Do you maintain eye contact? Do you want to hear more? Do you feel that your contribution is respected? Well, why would anybody feel any different about you if you are talking at them? Learning to listen and being able to provide feedback to people so that they can hear it and then act on it are skills which need constant honing.

The key to developing effective listening skills is to stop talking and to start asking questions. It sounds too simple to be true, but by asking questions we encourage the other person to talk and it allows us to listen to them (and really understand their needs). Hence, the more we listen (especially as a coach), the more we understand.

Most of us have the greatest difficulty in listening when we have a vested interest in the conversation:

  • when we really want to “win” the argument or discussion
  • when want to convince the other person of something
  • when we have something at risk, etc.

Because of the interest you might have in coaching someone and helping them to do something better or to stretch and develop you might find yourself falling into “telling” mode and not listening enough. If you find yourself doing that, just try to slow down, relax and ask a question or two.

The “Art” of listening objectively (and effectively)

It’s so easy to be distracted when someone else is talking. We all suffer from information overload in this future-shocked world, and with the best will in the world, it is not always easy to give total attention to someone speaking when that person tends to wander, or to get off track. Nevertheless, we do need to focus our attention on others when they are speaking, and that’s not easy.

Let’s look at a few ideas on how to make this process a bit easier:

  1. Stop what you are doing, and put what you are doing to one side.
  2. Try and free your mind from what you are currently doing, and switch attention to the needs and preoccupations of the other person.
  3. Try and put preoccupations out of your mind so that you can focus all of your attention on what is being said. If necessary, note down your thoughts at this stage of your thinking, and ask the person to wait while you briefly note those thoughts.
  4. Rethink the situation. Is there anything you may be missing?
  5. Observe closely and attentively. Non-verbal clues can be very significant

Of course, this last suggestion is one of the hardest things to do and as we said earlier, takes time and practice. However, with focus and effort we can start to better read the person we are trying to coach and always continue to develop our own effective listening skills.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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