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. Markers that are closely related in this competency are markers 2 through 5 and I’ll address them in this article.
2. Reflects or summarizes what the client communicated to ensure clarity and understanding
3. Recognizes and inquires when there is more to what the client is communicating
4. Notices, acknowledges and explores the client’s emotions, energy shifts, non-verbal cues or other behaviors
5. Integrates the client’s words, tone of voice and body language to determine the full meaning of what is being communicated
Coaching skills revolve around being a great listener and communicator. It’s about creating an atmosphere where the client feels seen and heard, so they can feel comfortable being vulnerable and reflective. Empathy also plays an important role in our ability to understand our client’s perspective and goes a long way in building trust. When we can understand how our client might be thinking and feeling, it gives us the perspective to make powerful observations that can open up new learning for the client. Listening competency in coaching isn’t just about hearing, it’s about communicating in ways that only someone who is in tune with what the other person is saying can. It’s about hearing beyond the words and listening to the whole person and the whole of what they are communicating. When we do this, we will hear the client say things they don’t realize they are saying and can play that back to them for their benefit. Reflecting and summarizing doesn’t mean that you just repeat back everything you just heard. That doesn’t create new awareness for the client to work with. The reflections and summarizations are built from what you hear beyond the words. They should be short reflections with curious questions that cause the client to think beyond where they were thinking. In order to do this well, we have to understand the whole of how clients communicate. In order to be a good listener, we must understand that most communication isn’t delivered through the actual words spoken. Communication comes through tone, speed of speaking, body language, volume, energy, etc. It can be very powerful for the coach to go beyond just quietly noticing when the client communicates in these ways. By acknowledging what we see, hear, and feel in the client’s communication and then helping the client explore it, they can reach new levels of awareness and change their ways of thinking. By integrating the client’s language into the way we communicate, we can both give them new insights and build rapport that helps them to fully express themselves without barriers. Matching the client’s energy and body language, utilizing the client’s words when asking questions, and pulling on their metaphors to dig deeper into unconscious thoughts are all powerful ways to demonstrate that we are actively listening and create the awareness the client needs to have breakthroughs.