Is Coaching a skill or an outcome of contributing skills?
Coaching is often referred to as a skill. Coaching, however, is an output of several fundamental skills and behaviours.
In this series, we will cover all the skills that lead to the output of “coaching” or being “coached”.
Let us start with perhaps the most essential of the coaching skills in this blog – Listening.
It is important to define listening at the outset.
According to oxford:
- to pay attention to someone or something that you can hear
- listen(to somebody/something) to take notice of what someone says to you so that you understand them, follow their advice, or believe them
But listening is much more than that to a coach and the person being coached. There are nuances of listening not captured in the definition. Let’s look at a couple of examples to uncover that a bit more.
To me, listening is a feeling.
Here is an example- has this happened to you?
You need the help of an individual. You walk up to the person at work – Pratap. You are now standing behind Pratap. He is facing away from you and is working on his laptop. To draw his attention, you say “excuse me” Pratap grunts an acknowledgement but does not turn around. He continues to work. After a pause, you continue, “excuse me Pratap, I have a question I need help with”. He says, “sure go ahead” but still does not turn. So, you hesitantly ask your question. Pratap gives you an answer, without turning around. You’ve received an answer, and you leave.
The question is, did he listen to you? Many of you will likely feel, Pratap did not listen to you. You may say even though I got an answer I did not feel good. Perhaps your confidence in what he said is not very high either.
What if I said Pratap did listen and gave evidence of it by answering your question? You may say “True, but I still have an underlying feeling that he did not really listen to me” And you are right. The discomfort you feel is because of how he made you or did not make you feel. You “felt” not listened to.
Now let’s take the opposite scenario.
Situation B: You need Pratap’s help and walk up to him. You are now standing behind Pratap. He is facing away from you and is working on his laptop. To draw his attention, you say “Excuse me”. Pratap stops what he is doing and turns around. As you talk, he makes eye contact, paraphrases to seek alignment and asks some clarifying questions. Then he gives you an answer.
Same question- Did he listen? You are likely to say yes, he did. You are also likely to feel confident about his answer as well.
The twist in the story is that the answer Pratap gave in situations A and B was the same. What made the difference was how you felt and what he did to make you feel that way.
Therefore, it is not so much about the technical ability of “listening” as it is about whether the person being coached felt listened to.
If you think about it all the techniques we learn, like paraphrasing, asking questions, responding, etc are all designed to ultimately help the person being coached, feel listened to.
It would be good for you to reflect on how you listen. The next time you are in a meeting with an important stakeholder at work or your spouse at home, pause and reflect on whether you are collecting information/ increasing your understanding/thinking of a solution or are you also demonstrating to the other person that you care. Try to make the person feel listened to. You are also likely to notice they light up at the attention and maybe they will really listen to you, the next time you need them to!