Competency 6: Listens Actively is found in the ICF Competencies under Part C: Communicates Effectively. ICF defines this competency as “ Focuses on what the client is and is not saying to fully understand what is being communicated in the context of the client systems and to support client self-expression. The markers that are most closely related to one another in this competency are 1 and 6 which I’ll address in this article.
1.Considers the client’s context, identity, environment, experiences, values and beliefs to enhance understanding of what the client is communicating
6. Notices trends in the client’s behaviors and emotions across sessions to discern themes and patterns.
These competencies of listening actively point out that the coach must be fully engaged with the client and, over time, understand how the client thinks, reacts, behaves, and speaks. There is also an aspect here of understanding their beliefs, values, and life experiences that add to how they perceive their world. To do this, we must take a big picture view of the client. Not just how the client is in this specific session, but how they are overall. This enables us to notice trends in their behaviors and emotions throughout the engagement. When working with a client over time you start to know their story and how they came to be who they are today. Then, you can also begin to identify patterns that arise where the current reactions and thinking patterns seem to be connected to things previously discussed. I often have clients that throughout the course of our coaching, we identify that some of their beliefs, behaviors, and thinking patterns stem from the way their family of origin was around those things. If the parents were risk averse, often that behavior is picked up by the child and as an adult they are fearful of making decisions. If their family had certain views on money and conflict etc., then those views are picked up by the child. Or, if the parents labeled the child in some way such as “the best,” “daddys good girl,” “clumsy and backwards,” “a disappointment,” etc. the child brings that belief into adulthood and those labels and views continue to impact the way they see themselves and their place in the world. Perhaps, this information comes out in a coaching session. Now, the coach has this information on how the client sometimes has thinking patterns and beliefs that aren’t the most helpful and that they may stem from their family of origin. In the future, when the client is stuck in a belief about themselves or how to move forward, the coach can step back and identify this as the same pattern that arose when the family of origin was involved previously. Then, they can ask questions that can help the client explore if that is once again the root of the stuckness. Once the origin of the beliefs is identified, the client can then make a decision if they want to continue to hold these beliefs as an adult or if they want to formulate new beliefs that are more helpful.
Another common occurrence is when the client has a previous life experience that is impacting current life experiences. Let’s say a client worked for a company that was driven by a micromanaging leader who had to approve everything they did and often reacted badly when things were not perfect. When that client moves to a new company, the trauma of the previous company might spill over into how they perceive their new environment. The client may be stuck and experiencing challenges with confidence, courageousness, transparency, and initiative to do things. The coach can step back and remember how the client described their experience in the last company and begin to ask questions about how the client might be attributing the previous company’s culture to the new company though there is no evidence that it is similar. Perhaps there are things the client needs to leave behind in order to step forward courageously into their new role in a new company. It is by knowing our client that we can have wider view insights that enable us to ask how things from the past might be connected to current thinking that is holding them back.
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