HR Jetpack

Effective Communications

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Effective Communications

Lesson Content

Someone told me once that if you treat someone normal, they feel less than normal, and if you treat someone special, they feel normal. So to make people feel special, to feel as if they are seen, heard, valued, and worth someone’s time and attention, you have to consciously set that intention, be fully present, and listen actively so that you can respond significantly.

This is how one builds trust and creates an environment of safety, honesty, and integrity, the type of environment required for effective coaching. For someone to be open to reflecting on what they want, contemplating the changes they need to make, and committing to the behavior to achieve their desired outcomes—they need to be confident that the person listening to them feels that they are creative, resourceful, and whole. Listening is so important it is not just a coaching skill, but also one of the five contexts of the co-active coaching model.

The International Coach Federation (ICF) defines five key elements of Active Listening. They all help you ensure that you hear the other person, and that the other person knows you are hearing what they are saying.

Element number 1, Pay attention. Give the speaker your undivided attention and acknowledge the message. Recognize that what is not said also speaks loudly. “Listen” to the speaker’s body language. Look at the speaker directly. Avoid being distracted by environmental factors (nearby conversations, email/texts, etc.) Use the skill of self-management - put aside distracting thoughts. Don’t mentally prepare a rebuttal!

Element number 2, Show that you are listening. Use your own body language and gestures to convey your attention. Nod occasionally. Smile and use other facial expressions. Note your posture and make sure it is open and inviting. Encourage the speaker to continue with small verbal comments like yes, and uh huh.

Element number 3, Provide feedback. As a listener, your role is to understand what is being said, as a coach, your role is to feed-back that information to the coachee so a) they know you understand, b) they can clarify anything that needs clarification for either you or more importantly themselves, and c) they hear what they said in a way that might alert them to certain thoughts and feelings that were unconscious. Sub-skills include, Paraphrasing. Reflect what has been said using different words. "What I'm hearing is…" and "Sounds like you are saying..." Ask Clarifying Questions. “What do you mean when you say…” “Is this what you mean?” Summarize the speaker’s comments periodically.

Element number four, Defer Critical Judgment. Recognize your own biases, assumptions, and agenda (if you have one) and do your best to set them aside. This too requires the skill and coaching context of Self-Management. Do not interrupt to add your own point or make counter-argument. However, there is a coaching skill called Intruding, which is the intentional interruption of a coachee’s monologue to redirect them to a more productive line of thought, similar to the skill of bottom-lining. I use it a lot when a client is going into a story, which I know they know. They’ve told multiple people about it already. This sharing with me is not adding any value. Our limited time would be better served by covering new or deeper territory than non-solution oriented venting. That being said, you have to use your judgment as to when that information is necessary for you to understand the situation or their feelings, and when they need to vent prior to moving forward. (This is the skill of Clearing, a time-limited vent to help the client get present and open to coaching.) A great antidote to critical judgment is the coaching skill of Curiosity. Like listening and self-management, it is also one of the five contexts of coaching. Employ the skill of Questioning to learn where the coachee is coming from, what the issue they are talking about means to them, and what underlying issues are going unsaid.

Element number five. Respond Appropriately. Active listening is a model for respect and understanding. You are gaining information and perspective. You add nothing by attacking the speaker or otherwise putting him or her down. Over time, the coach becomes more adept at knowing which skills to use in their response, do you ask more powerful questions, leave them with an inquiry, engage in brainstorming, or use your intuition to make an observation and/or challenge the coachee to some action.

Be candid, open, and honest in your response. Taking the risk of speaking ‘the hard truth’ is a highly effective way to build trust and make people feel valued and taken care of…because they see it as an investment in them, their potential, and your relationship.

Like in any conversation, coaching or otherwise you want to assert your opinions respectfully and treat the other person as he or she would want to be treated.

Let’s continue to review some more coaching skills that help us take Listening to a deeper level and build our tool box of possible responses.

Stacey Zackin


Stacey Zackin

If Stacey were a Super Hero, she'd be The Status Quo Buster. With 15+ years of experience in human behavior, management, and entertainment, Stacey merges psychology, strategy, and imagination to...

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