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What Should Coaches Be Listening For?

Monday, 25 November 2019

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A coach’s job is to facilitate potential change, usually done by asking questions to identify the components of the problem, choosing between solutions to discuss, and offering ways to make, and keep, any changes while maintaining a trusting relationship.

To achieve the excellence that all coaches seek, it’s vital they avoid the ear’s natural, unconscious listening filters that could prejudice an interaction, such as:

Bias. By listening specifically for issues – problems, hopes, missing skills or motivation – a coach will merely hear what s/he recognizes as missing. This causes a problem for a client: if there are unspoken or omitted bits, if there are meta patterns that should be noticed, if there are unstated historic – or subconscious – reasons behind the current situation that aren’t obvious, the coach may not find them in a timely way, causing the coach to begin in the wrong place, with the wrong timing and assumptions, leading to suggestions that may be inappropriate, potentially creating mistrust (best case) or harm (worst case).

Assumptions. If a coach has had somewhat similar discussions with other clients, or historic, unconscious, beliefs are touched that bring to mind specific questions or solutions, coaches too often offer clients flawed or inadequate suggestions.

Habits. If a coach has a client base in one area – say, real estate, or leadership – s/he may unconsciously enter the conversation with many prepared ways of handling similar situations and may miss the unique issues, patterns, and unspoken foundation that may hold the key to success.

And it’s all unconscious. None of us, especially coaches who truly care about their clients, ever mean to harm anyone. As I write in my book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? the problem lie in our brains. Once we listen carefully for ‘something’, consciously or un-, we restrict all else that’s possible to hear as our brains interpret the words spoken according to our bias (led by the electrical/chemical signals sent to our historic neural pathways), often missing the client’s real intent, nuance, patterns, and comprehensive contextual framework and implications.

To have choice as to when, whether, or how to avoid filtering out possibility, we must disassociate – go up on the ceiling and look down – and remove ourselves from any personal biases, assumptions, triggers or habits, enabling us to hear all that is meant (spoken or not).

In What? I explain how to trigger ourselves the moment there is a potential incongruence. For those unfamiliar with disassociation, try this: during a phone chat, put your legs up on the desk and push your body back against the chair, or stand up. For in-person discussions, stand up and/or walk around. [I have walked around rooms during Board meetings while consulting for Fortune 100 companies. They wanted excellence regardless of my physical comportment.] Both of those physical perspectives offer the physiology of choice and the ability to move outside of our instincts. Try it.

For companies wanting a one-day program on listening to ensure teammates hear each other accurately, to help customer-facing staff to hear clients better, let me know. For those individuals seeking to listen without bias, read What? and take the guided learning that leads you through exercises in each chapter, to teach you how to notice, and get rid of, your listening bias.

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Sharon Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharondrewmorgen.com She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.