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In this post Leslie Brodie, one of The Performance Coach’s Postgraduate Certificate in Coaching and Development students, explores active listening in coaching. The term listening and especially active listening can easily be bandied about without consideration of the actual ingredients, let alone the complexities of delivering it consistently within the coaching environment.
Carl Rogers was instrumental in researching in to levels of listening; one level he identified was active listening.
The coach’s role is to create a trusting partnership and a safe environment where the coachee can explore their own behaviours and beliefs to better their own self development and performance.
On top of this is our own awareness as the listener of our body language and how we ‘show up’ and interact with the coachee. The common theme is the need for the listener or coach to understand both content and feeling of the speaker and at the same time not show judgement. Active listening is an integral part of coaching, being at a deeper level and offering many benefits to a dyadic relationship. Paraphrasing – the coach using their own words to explain what they think the coachee has said. Reflection or echoing – the coach shares their interpretation of what the coachee is feeling.
Research (1) suggests that individuals, who received active listening felt more understood, produced rewarding and positive outcomes as well as building stronger relationships.
Active listening appears far from an easily learned skill due to the complexities of the interaction of each element within the coaching conversation. It might be said it [active listening] is a conduit to building trust, creating a safe and honest environment for the coachee to share their thoughts and feelings and reflect on their beliefs and behaviours as a catalyst for change.
By understanding that listening is far greater than hearing the spoken word but also picking up on subtle verbal and non-verbal cues, a reflection might be how we become more aware as coaches to identify these. How we prepare for each conversation can greatly impact on the quality and outcome for the coachee. Preparation is important for future coaching De Haan (2014) emphasises the need to listen is the base function a coach should be offering before any intervention verbally and staying attentive to the coachee. A reflection might be to consider the Conscious Competence Model by A Maslow; a good model to reflect upon during a coaching journey. Cube 4 – Further practice, reflect and ask for feedback to lead to an unconscious competence. Get free resourcesEnter your details below to get a host of free coaching resources and news from The Performance Coach. We have the largest print-on-demand fulfillment network in the world with 15 manufacturing centers in five different countries. If you can't find the answers to your question on our FAQ page, please submit a support ticket, and our staff will respond to your question(s) right away.
To encourage speakers to explain, in greater detail, their understanding of the situation and their feelings. To encourage an understanding that expression of emotion is acceptable and is useful to understand the depth of feelings. As the speaker realises you are hearing their emotional content correctly, the intensity of their emotion tends to decrease and the content of the message becomes more important. The key thing with listening training is to stop the listener (and the interpreter) talking. Do not use stock phrases like “It’s not so bad”, “don’t be upset”, “you are making too much out of it”, or “just calm down”. Try not to let your biases interfere with what you hear being said and don’t jump to conclusions or judgments. It’s a good sign in a relationship if you are able finish each other’s sentences right?
I’m always amazed at how enthusiastic and talkative prospective customers become when they are around salespeople. Think of active listening as listening with all your senses and not just through your ears. Empathy - It’s the capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by others. The quickest way to crash land your active listening mission is by closing your mind before all the cards are laid out on the table.
Nod your head in agreement, politely laugh at their jokes, express surprise, bewilderment or whatever emotion that’s appropriate through body language. In my experience, I have found leaning forward to be a better alternative whenever I feel the need to shift my position. There are so many ways you can communicate your interest in the conversation verbally without speaking much.
Calling out him or her of being inaccurate or counter arguing the case to prove your intellectual superiority is totally unproductive. I learnt paraphrasing and it’s importance the hard way - by actually doing it during each and every one of my telesale calls.
I get that it might look ridiculous repeating what the customer has just said, but ironically, that’s the whole point. Even the most aggressive customers tend to come around when they start to believe that you have understood what they are talking about, which is the first important step to get things sorted out. To get good at clean, perfect paraphrasing, you should ask the customer all the questions you have in mind. The mission here is to align your understanding in line with the customer’s intentions. By tracking leads and conversations in a CRM, you’ll never miss a beat even when engaging with a customer after a long period. Voice recorders can come in handy when you are new to the concept of active listening and have a tough time keeping track of things.
Sometimes there’s no greater gift you can give someone than offering a sympathetic ear.


A recent Student Health 101 survey indicates that almost 50 percent of students just want to be listened to during times of distress. In the recent Student Health 101 survey, 20 percent of respondents ranked eye contact as the most important part of a conversation. Hilary S., a fourth-year student at the University of Guelph in Ontario, agrees that your body conveys your attentiveness.
The Centre for Teaching Excellence at the University of Waterloo in Ontario emphasizes the importance of body language in active listening. It can be difficult to maintain listening with intent during the coaching session, instead we can experience mental interference, a need to fix it’ and instinct to offer advice. Part of this is hearing the words of what is being said with an awareness of vocal changes in tone, speed and pitch. Some view the importance for the listener to identify both words and thoughts as well as what the coachee is feeling. It is interesting to consider if negative results and unsatisfying relationships would be the outcome of poor or ‘not’ using active listening skills. It requires more concentration to be able to show the coachee that you have an understanding of the content, their feelings and underlying beliefs and values without judging them. Rogers & Farson (1987) identify that active listening takes more awareness and is not an easy skill to develop. Certain aspects of active listening are much easier in face to face sessions where you can absorb visual clues from the speaker. This leads on to the importance of being conscious to the coachee, an awareness of being in the moment.
Personally I need to create space for me so that in turn I can offer mental space to the coachee.
It is very humbling to consider that according to De Haan (2006) even experienced practitioners feel that they still have a lot to learn when it comes to listening.
This will enable further practice and development of listening skills so that it becomes an unconscious competence.
In order to post comments, please make sure JavaScript and Cookies are enabled, and reload the page. Excellent command over the language and having clarity of vision are great communication skills to posses if you are a sales person.
To avoid boredom, it isn’t uncommon for people to tune out of the conversation and take a mental nap.
Instead of just keeping your ears open and waiting for your turn to speak, it involves keeping your eyes and mind open during the conversation as well. Are you ready to paraphrase what the customer was talking about when it’s your turn to speak? If sales is the career of your choice, then patience naturally becomes the virtue of necessity.
I don’t want to sound cliched, but you learn about empathy when you start showing empathy.
By doing this, you encourage the speaker that you are all ears and slowly start gaining his trust.
Averting eye contact is alright at times, but looking around the room without purpose or glancing at your watch multiple times will distract the speaker.
It’s often comfortable to cross arms or legs when the conversation goes on for a bit.
Just go with positive facial expressions and polite head nods.There is no room for the academy award material method actor inside you to make an appearance!
Give the speaker time to pause or complete the sentence before putting across the question.
When I get that feel, I have found pitching in with a piece of information, a story or a statistic to reinforce the speaker’s argument work like gangbusters. Forgetting to paraphrase the customer’s lengthy rant or missing a few points meant messing up my KPI and getting a boatload of stinkers from the higher ups.
I have seen customers soften up after hearing a pitch perfect paraphrased version of what they’ve just said. By getting all your doubts out of the way, there is no room for confusion for either one of you. Take notes when the customer is speaking and put all the pieces together when you paraphrase. As time flies by, you will find it difficult to find the right notes that could help you grasp things quickly in a follow up conversation. Using digital voice recorders isn’t mainstream yet, as many customers do not like the idea in the first place. I personally prefer using Evernote for recording and playing the clips from multiple devices. Facilitating a conversation where the speaker feels heard is a crucial part of good communication. This again serves as validation for the speaker and an opportunity to clarify anything you’ve misunderstood. Practicing these helps ensure that not only do the people you speak with feel heard, but also that you get the most from conversations.
It is interesting to consider that active listening contributes most to the coaching environment as a significant building block to building trust and rapport for a successful coaching session.
Other techniques, which are not purely based on listening with our ears, include visual responses from the listener by nodding or subtle verbal responses such as uh – huh and eye contact. Our own internal dialogue may start based on what we think of the content and although we may not share verbally, it can be shown through our body language or facial expressions.
The process can be aided by the use of questions to encourage further talking by the coachee. By managing our own personal responses to the coachee’s words can enable us as the listener to show empathy authentically.


Take for instance now whilst reading this page, are you ’listening’ to the words your mind is reading or to something that is not on the page. When you are coaching over the telephone it may heighten the listening experience and you notice the changes in the voice more readily and yet you have less opportunity to witness the speaker’s expressions. The use of mindfulness as preparation and centering prior to a coaching session has proved invaluable. It’s an awesome trait to possess when you are around your significant other, but is really bad manners when you are interacting with someone you share a professional relationship with. There is this one interpersonal skill that has the potential to compliment and fortify your reputation as a salesperson with brains and heart - it’s called active listening.
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There isn’t any harm in not listening to a conversation when it has nothing specific to do with your business right? Besides, not actively listening leads to missing the cues to steer the conversation your way and to pick up from where the customer left off. It really helps a lot if you stop seeing the customer as a walking cheque book and start looking him as a person trying to make an honest living. Prejudice clouds your judgment and you won’t be able to give your customer a fair chance at explaining his side of things. Reserve your judgment till the end of the conversation and when you do, please be sure to keep it to yourselves!
Unfortunately, it is seen as a psychological barrier indicating disinterest or closed nature. If the customer offers a correction or has something more to add to your version, make a note of it and rinse and repeat the process. Technology does distract from active listening, but at the same time, it can help you become an expert listener in no time if used right. Armed with that information, you’ll be in a better position to listen and understand, without having to play mental catch up with your own self! But, with the advent of smartphones and voice recording apps, it isn’t as crazy an idea as it used to be. A word of caution though - do not record a conversation without getting the consent of all parties involved in the conversation. This can help build trust and create an environment of understanding rather than an impulse to react, evaluate or judge either approvingly or disapprovingly to what another person is saying.
Further elements comprise of observing the speakers body language, awareness of their reactions to words they are speaking. We are all human and have our own belief and value system, the importance is to focus on the dialogue rather than our interpretation and judgement of the content. By placing yourself in front of a coachee and listening to them speak you may encounter internal interference. It is interesting to consider when you are coaching over the telephone and have less visual cues how do you know when the coachee needs verbal re-assurance or needs quiet space to think? We are a leading UK executive coaching and leadership development company based near London, UK.
If you are easily distracted, try taking notes during the conversation to drive the message home. Tone, style of delivery, diction, dressing sense - there’ll be many avenues for you to brush a person aside without a second thought. With proper body language, you can accurately convey that you are indeed listening to what the other party has to say.
Similarly, slouching and adjusting your position constantly will make the speaker feel uncomfortable. Instead, offer insights that encourage the speaker’s argument when you actually have one.
I reiterate, it’s for extreme scenarios only and relying on recordings all the time will only hinder you from becoming an active listener. It is essential that the coach has an acute sense of awareness both of themselves as well as the coachee.
This is probably most critical early in the relationship when you are trying to build rapport and trust.
This has also been ignited further following working alongside two wild ponies where being present and understanding subtle non-verbal cues are essential to build trust and rapport. Let’s just quickly run through what it takes to develop your active listening skills. These might appear to us as simple components and yet it is important to make them authentic. Mullender, hostage negotiator talks of listening elite level and challenges concepts by stating the mind cannot refrain from making mental judgements.
According to Mullender we are all making judgements based on our values and beliefs that will impact and cloud out thoughts. This internal conversation can continue and may include filters or assumptions about what the coachee has said.
Gradually, you’ll notice that patience improves not just your active listening skills, but the quality of life itself! During a dialogue, should the listener use active listening skills to encourage the speaker, show empathy and understanding; this can lead to greater understanding and appreciation of each other.



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