Attention and interest
A way to show that you are paying attention to and showing interest in what a person is saying is by having an open body language. Body language encompasses facial expressions, micro-expressions, voice, gestures, and postures.
I often find myself leaning forward when I’m intently listening. This comes naturally to me. Having an open and forward posture shows that a person is actively accepting what is being said. The person who is speaking when I hold this posture would see this posture as a sign that I am truly paying attention and that I am genuinely interested in what they have to say.
I use my hands a lot when speaking, both in an iconic way to illustrate the meaning of my words, and a metaphoric way to explain a concept. In a coaching situation, this way of demonstrating my thoughts with my hands should make it easy for the coachee to see that I have grasped what they are trying to tell me. That being said, emotions can be revealed with hand gestures – I wring my hands when nervous. I am aware of this and that I can come across as insecure, so I have made a conscious effort to stop doing this. The voice can also reveal emotions that are not conveyed by the words spoken. For instance, I speak faster when nervous. This could be a problem in the coaching session where my nervous chatter could make the coachee nervous as well, and not leave enough quiet time for her to process what I have said. To make myself feel more relaxed when speaking I have been making short videos about my coaching studies, which I post on Instagram. I wanted to force myself to get used to speaking to a camera and expressing my ideas without stammering, rambling, or speaking too fast. It has been a good exercise because I feel much more confident in my abilities to express coaching ideas and sharing knowledge. Looking at myself on camera while talking has made me more aware of my facial expressions, how much I use my hands and in one video I could see how I got out of breath when speaking about something I felt passionate about. That video taught me the value of slowing down and breathing. I upload the videos in one take so that it won’t come across as rehearsed, but also so that I can see where I go wrong, work on it, and am able to monitor my progress.
Active listening and effective questioning are the main explorations skills that a coach needs to develop. Active listening requires many different skills, one of which is to show understanding which can be achieved with the use of confirming words and/or gestures like nodding. This comes naturally to me but I do need to be aware that if used too often or at the wrong time during a conversation, it can make the speaker feel rushed, interrupt their chain of thought or lose it’s meaning because of overuse.
Allowing for silence and quiet reflective time during a coaching session is important. Though I am very comfortable with silences (I’m not one to feel compelled to speak in an elevator) I often grasp what a person wants to say while they are still talking and I have to force myself to keep quiet so that they can finish their chain of thought. I am conscious of this and have taught myself to stop doing that. It is comforting to know that an established coach like Julie Starr believes “… with strong intention and practice, focused listening is a muscle that you develop over time”.
In addition to focused listening, The Coaching Manual also refers to Deep Listening where coaches experience physical sensations in the body that guide them to change or pursue a subject broached by the speaker. I have experience of this, though I never thought of it as a sign of Deep Listening. The hairs on my arms rise and I get cold chills from the crown of my head all way down to my toes when I am in conversation with someone and I or the speaker say something profound. I think of it as Spirit’s way of showing me in a very real way, that the conversation is on the right track. In a coaching situation, I will look out for these signs.
As an active questioning technique, Julie Starr advises against asking a question that begins with “why” because it can make the coachee feel they have to validate their actions to you. As a coach you want to know the why behind a coachee’s actions or thoughts, yet instead of simply asking why one should choose a different open question to get to the “why”. It is clear that a coaching conversation requires more thought than a “regular” conversation. Learning the skills to ask simple, direct questions that can remove barriers and unlock hidden information, takes practice.
I find the VARK model of learning styles very interesting. If I can teach myself to listen out for examples of visual, kinaesthetic, or auditory language, I would be able to use similar language when engaging with a coachee. Understanding how someone processes information will also be useful when I want them to grasp a technique or solidify an outcome we reached. If I can pass on information to them in their natural learning style, it will greatly increase their trust in me as well as the coaching process.
Planning has always come naturally to me and makes me feel safe and in control. My job as a legal secretary requires that I keep detailed records, think a few steps ahead and make meticulous plans. I know that a good plan and being fully prepared can save you a lot of time and effort – especially in legal disputes. I will easily be able to utilise the structured coaching techniques like SMART goals and the GROW model, or worksheets as used in The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook in coaching sessions. I can also see how asking a new client to complete a questionnaire before our first session, and asking them to send their “homework” to me before each session will allow me to prepare for the coaching session. If I am fully prepared for each session, I will feel more confident. My coachee will pick up on my confidence and see that I take our sessions seriously.
*This blog post is based on the assignment I completed for Module 5 of my Integrated Resilience & Wellness Coaching studies.*