In this article, we’ll explore some tips on developing active listening skills by looking at a study by Harvard Business Review.

HBR analysed data describing the behaviour of 3,492 participants in a development program.  They included identifying those who were seen as being the most effective listeners, the top 5%.

Here’s what was found in the study and how we can apply it to active listening skills in our coaching:

  • We can be better active listeners by doing much more than just being quiet while the other person is talking

The study found that the ones seen as the best listeners were the ones who asked questions every now and again, helping to create more insight and discovery.  As coaches, we need to ensure that we are actively participating in the conversation, and it’s a two-way dialogue.

  • We can be better active listeners by helping build the other parties self-esteem to create a positive experience

Also, the study found that the best listeners helped make the conversation a positive experience for the other person, this can’t happen if the listener is only passive.  The good listeners made the other party feel supported and brought about more confidence in them.  Good listening is about creating a safe space, where issues can be talked about openly and without any judgement.

  • We can be better active listeners by creating a cooperative conversation

But the study showed that the interaction with the good listeners flowed easily both ways, with neither person becoming defensive.  Whereas, poor listeners were more competitive, by listening to find mistakes in the other parties reasoning or logic.

Remember, as coaches we’re not interested in debating or winning arguments.  We’re here to support the client and help them to discover new insights.

  • We can be better active listeners by including feedback

Although the study found that making suggestions was a sign of a good listener, we need to remember our role as a coach.  The coach has the role is to ask powerful questions and help the client make their own findings.

Providing feedback is certainly very useful in coaching.  For example, we may point out that the client seems really upbeat about a certain project they are working on, or we could mention that their body language is suggesting something about how they really might feel about their current job, and ask for clarification.  This kind of feedback is really helpful, and could certainly help the client make further discoveries through the session.

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