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Listen Carefully...

Three ways to be a better listener

Attentive listening is a skill and a basic building block of coaching. Here are three tips to be a better listener. 

Listening is hard work. Do you find yourself listening to someone and thinking of your response and formulating questions before they finish their thought? Does your mind wander in the middle of a conversation after you’ve decided you know where the speaker is going? Coaching is based on disciplined listening that is attuned to hear the deletions, distortions and generalizations that a client makes. This attentive listening isn’t a skill that only coaches can master; you too can be a better listener. 

Be an adult, not a parent

People engage in different types of listening. We may not be aware that the way we listen to our manager differs from how we listen to someone we supervise, and both of these may differ from how we listen to our partner or family members. 

Listening from a parent ego state is characterized by feeling as though we have the solution, often leading to feelings of impatience and frustration that the speaker can’t seem to see the answer that we find so obvious. Think of the stereotypical critical parent response. Have you found yourself incredibly annoyed when someone comes to you with something you feel wastes your time?

Listening from an adult ego state is characterized by the way two adults would communicate civilly, taking turns to hear the others perspective and engaging in a back and forth dialogue. Think of the way you may discuss a question with someone that you regard as an equal.

When we listen from the adult ego state, we are more likely to reserve judgment and ask how someone came to a conclusion rather than why they did something. While it may seem like semantics, consider how you would feel if someone asked “how did you decide to change jobs?” versus “why did you change jobs?” The second question, from the parent ego state, is more likely to elicit a defensive response. 

You don’t need to make it right

When we listen from a parent ego state, we are more likely to let our righting reflex take over. We feel we can solve the problem and offer our solution. Often an instinctual response, we may not realize we are doing this. When we jump in and try to fix the solution, we establish ourselves in a position of authority over the speaker’s situation. Think to the conversations you’ve had recently and how many of them have involved either you or someone else offering a righting reflex to a problem that was presented. How did those engaged in the conversation feel?

Curious vs. judgmental listening

As a listener, it is not your responsibility to solve problems. Remaining curious and in an information-gathering mode offers a space for dialogue and exploration that jumping to solutions does not. Judgmental listening does not encourage the speaker to come to his or her own best solution but rather puts your appraisal of the situation on the table. 

It is not always easy to stay in a curious listening place and can feel like a waste of time when the answer seems so obvious from our perspective, but that’s the key. Our perspective is different from the person we are talking to and attentive listening allows others to sort through their thoughts and find their best answer. This is not to say that you cannot offer input, but suggestions are different than solutions. 

As you engage in conversations, pay attention to how you respond to others and how the conversation flows differently when you are a curious adult participant.