To be listened to is a striking experience – partly because it is so rare. When another person is totally with you, leaning in, interested in every word, eager to empathise, you feel known and understood.

People get bigger when they know they’re being listened to; they have more presence. They feel safer and more secure, as well, and can begin to trust. It is why listening is so important to coaching.

As Stephen Covey said “most people listen with the intent to reply” in other words, most people are focused not on what the other person is saying but what they are thinking of saying to reply, maybe some cleaver (in our mind) or witty remark!

Most people do not listen at a very deep level. Their day-to-day occupations and preoccupations don’t require more than a minimum level of listening-just as most of us never acquire more than the muscles because we are not world-class athletes.

In everyday listening, we listen mostly to the words. The focus is on what you said and what I said. Think of all the arguments you’ve been in where the crux of the fight was over the precise words that were used: “That’s not what you said”……….”It’s what I meant”……..”But it’s not what you said.” Or we hear the words and then disconnect from the conversation while we process the words internally.

We start thinking about what to say next. We look for a comparable story – or one that’s just a little more dramatic: “You think that was scary, let me tell you about the time I …………” We get caught up in our own feelings; we take things personally; we listen at a superficial level as we evaluate and judge what we’re listening to.

Most of us would say our friends are generally good listeners because they are willing to suspend their judgment of us and sometimes will even be quiet and listen. And yet, too often, when we really want just to be listened to, our family, friends, and co-workers, with the best intentions in the world, want to solve the problem or take care of the feelings.

There are two aspects of listening in coaching. One is attention or awareness. It is the receiving of information through what we hear with our ears, of course, but it is also listening with all the senses and with our intuition. We hear, see and experience sounds, words, images, feelings, energy. We are attentive to all the information we draw in from our senses.

The attention is on the information coming in the words, impressions, shifts of energy. We are multifaceted receivers with many receptors of various kinds, all of which are receiving information: we notice breathing on the other end of the phone, the pace of the delivery, the modulation of the voice. We sense the pressure behind the words – the voice might be soft or hard-edged, tentative or enraged. We not only listen to the person but, simultaneously, we listen to every thing else that is happening in the environment. It’s not only what is being said but what is not being said. The body language I like to call it the “unsaid communicated.”

As Stephen Covey said “most people listen with the intent to reply” in other words, most people are focused not on what the other person is saying but what they are thinking of saying to reply, maybe some cleaver (in our mind) or witty remark!

The second aspect is what we do with our listening. We call this the impact of our listening on others – specifically, the impact of the coach’s listening on the client. As an experienced coach, I need to be conscious not only of my listening but the impact I have when I act on my listening.

Most of the time, this consciousness is just below the surface. Think back to time when you were in a shouting match with a loved one: fists on hips, veins bulging, words flying back and forth like napalm. In the midst of this, your partner stops talking and gives you the silent treatment. You keep talking – perhaps even louder now. “you are so bleeping aggravating,” you say. “Why,” they coolly respond, “I’m not saying anything……. I’m just listening.” Did you feel the impact?

In ‘Co-active Coaching,’ Laura Whitworth, Henry Kemsey-House and Phil Sandahl suggest there a three Levels of listening.

Level One Listening is described as INTERNAL LISTENING – where the attention is on ourselves. We are focusing on our response to what is being said – how we are feeling about what we are hearing. This might mean that we are judging the client or interpreting their words according to our own frame of reference or experiencing feelings that are being evoked by their words. The key question we are asking ourselves is ‘What does this mean to me?’ and ‘How does this affect me?’

Occasionally, you might ‘miss’ something that the person has said, and realise you’re losing track of the conversation, saying something like ‘sorry I drifted off – what did you say? This is also why because we are not paying attention we don’t remember the other person name that we have just been introduced to.

Level Two Listening is described as FOCUSED LISTENING – where all the listening is directed at the client. There is not much awareness of outside stimuli. As a coach, you are listening to the words, expressions, and emotions of your client. You are focusing on what they are saying and what they’re not saying, what they value, their vision and their energy levels.

At this level of listening, a coach should have no thoughts, no opinions, and no agenda. A coach should be unattached to themselves and focused on the client’s agenda, thoughts, and their opinions. Even over the telephone, it is possible to pick up a number of non-verbal signals that help give you, as a coach, more information about how a client is feeling about a particular issue.

Level Three Listening is described as GLOBAL LISTING (360 degrees) – like a radio field. The radio waves are entirely invisible, yet we can trust they exist because we hear music coming from the radio. Level three is like the radio waves. They cross our antenna, and they become information

That we can use. When we are operating our listening Level three, we are using all our senses, seeing, hearing and feeling, etc. to observe everything about the message that is being transmitted to us and we are allowing our intuition to pick up a ‘sixth sense’ messages which we can check out with our client.

You might choose to say ‘I don’t know where this is coming from and it may not be relevant, but I sense that…………’ Level three listening often provides the key that unlocks the meaning for the coach and enables them to have a greater understanding of the client’s agenda and consequently to work more effectively with that client.