Exploring career mentoring and coaching
Exploring career mentoring and coaching

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Exploring career mentoring and coaching

3.1 Listening

Dr Julia Yates explains why she believes that listening is the most important skill of all.

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JULIA YATES
There are a wide range of skills that a good coach needs to foster, but if I was to pick one of those skills that I think really lies at the heart of coaching, it would be the skill of listening. And listening does lots of different things. One thing that listening does is it helps to develop the rapport and the relationship. And we know from the evidence about coaching, and about all sorts of other therapies, that the key to successful coaching outcomes lies in the quality of the relationship. And listening is at the heart of the relationships, so it's absolutely vital for developing the trust and the rapport that the individual needs. The other particular value in listening is that it allows clients to clarify their thoughts. Thoughts usually, that are sort of running around our heads, are quite foggy, quite fuzzy, and not very well formed. And it's only in the process of articulating them, putting them into words, that we actually can crystallise what it is that we think. So if somebody is sitting and listening to us, that gives us the space to get our foggy, amorphous thoughts out of our minds and into a nice, clear, crystallised form.
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In his Introduction to Coaching Skills (2017, Chapter 3, pp. 27–40) Van Nieuwerburgh explains that ‘if people listen to us genuinely and attentively, we feel more confident about our topic and are able to think about and discuss it more fluently.’

For example, an active listener will:

  • maintain eye contact
  • keep open body language
  • make encouraging sounds and nod
  • allow silence.

Most coaches will aim to speak 20 per cent of the time, allowing their client to fill 80 per cent of the conversation. Compare this to a normal social conversation which tends to be closer to 50/50.

Activity 3 Listening skills

Allow about 15 minutes

Watch this video taken from the OpenLearn course, Three principles of a coaching approach [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . The commentator in the video focuses on summarising, but in order to summarise effectively the coach needs to listen carefully to what his client is saying. Is this coach demonstrating good listening skills?

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NARRATOR
In this example about summarising, you'll hear the coach referring to their own agenda and experience, offering advice, and offering interpretation of what the client says.
CLIENT
So as we previously discussed, I'm at a crossroads now in my career. And I can go in one of two directions. I could stick to what I'm doing now-- the project management. Or I could do something different, which is to start managing people more and perhaps get to the point where I have my own team, which, I think, sounds like something I might be interested in actually.
COACH
It's tough, though, isn't it, being at a crossroads. I mean, I remember myself when I was at a career crossroads. This is probably 20 years ago now. But it really took me ages to work out what I was going to do.
And I thought about things like, am I going to go down the people management route, or just the project management route? And in the end, I made a really clear decision, actually, that I was going to go down the project management route.
CLIENT
Right. Did you?
COACH
I did, yeah. Yeah.
CLIENT
Oh, OK. Yeah, it is a bit confusing, thinking-- because I know what I'm doing now, and I'm familiar with it and I'm good at that. Is it worth running the risk of taking on something really challenging, which, in the long run, could end up being good.
COACH
So it sounds to me as if you're a little bit lost and confused here. That's what I'm getting from you.
CLIENT
Right. Really?
COACH
Or is this something which is a pattern in your life?
CLIENT
I hadn't thought of that before.
COACH
Well, I'm definitely getting a sensation of you being a bit blocked here and a bit lost. That's how it's coming across to me.
CLIENT
Oh. Oh, gosh. OK.
COACH
So I think you need to get a bit clearer in your thinking actually.
CLIENT
Right. I need to get clearer.
COACH
Mm-hm.
CLIENT
I thought I was getting quite clear. I was--
COACH
But you're talking about going the people management route.
CLIENT
And perhaps that's not such a good idea for me.
COACH
Personally, I don't think that's a great idea.
CLIENT
Right.
COACH
I mean, people are very difficult to manage.
CLIENT
I guess I don't really have the qualifications either.
COACH
Well, that's right. So it sounds like you might be deluding yourself, actually, a little bit.
CLIENT
Yeah, it's a bit of a dilemma to be honest. I do find myself a bit worried about making the wrong choice.
COACH
Yeah, so lost, worried, confused, this isn't sounding like you're in a good head space, is it really?
CLIENT
Right. Perhaps not.
COACH
So I've got a few ideas anyway as to how you can sort this through.
CLIENT
OK. What do you think I should do?
COACH
Well, I think it's about getting really focused thinking to begin with. And if you take my advice, you would really abandon the people management route. I'm not sure it's suited for you.
CLIENT
OK.
COACH
That's what I think.
CLIENT
Right.
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Make a note of some of the things that the coach doesn’t do well.

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Now watch this video. The coach is demonstrating good listening skills, which enable him to summarise his client’s situation more effectively.

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NARRATOR
Here's an example of good summarising practise. In this example, you'll hear the coach using the same language and terminology as the client. And you'll also hear the coach keeping firmly to the client's agenda.
CLIENT
So as we discussed previously, I'm at a career crossroads now, and I really need to think about what direction to go in. I can stay where I am now and just progress in that area of project management. Or I can start to do something quite different, actually, which is to lead the people of a team and eventually have my own team, which is something that I find myself being more interested in lately.
COACH
So it sounds like you've done quite a bit of thinking on this and you've got a bit of clarity about the options. And it sounds at this stage as if you're beginning to favour the people management option.
CLIENT
I think I am. I do favour that. And I find it exciting, the thought of a new challenge. I do know, though, that I don't have the requisite qualifications. And also, I am a bit worried that my manager might think that-- I don't know-- I've got delusions of grandeur or something by thinking I can have my own team already.
COACH
So if I can just check my understanding of that. It sounds on the one hand you have that excitement and that you're relishing a bit of challenge.
CLIENT
Yes.
COACH
But I think I also heard, maybe, an assumption that you might be making that says something like, maybe I'm not sufficiently qualified at this stage.
CLIENT
hat's right. Yes. Yes. I think you're right. Am I being too ambitious? Will my manager think that I am-- I don't know-- deluding myself that I'm capable of this? I do think that I am good with people, though. And I have managed projects with people on them. And I have enjoyed it. And I have had good feedback.
COACH
So you're questioning yourself a bit about this, by the sound of it. And you're also concerned a little about what your manager in particular might be thinking about you.
CLIENT
Yes.
COACH
But I keep hearing your enthusiasm. In fact, I can hear it in your voice, actually. I can hear your enthusiasm for people, for managing people.
CLIENT
In my heart, I know that that is what I want to do.
COACH
In your heart.
CLIENT
Yes, I do want to do that. And I've been thinking about it for some time, and I've kept putting it off. But it's interesting you say that I look enthusiastic, because I do genuinely feel very keen to do that.
COACH
Yes, your voice had more energy, and your face had more animation when you were talking about it. It came through.
CLIENT
Yes. I just need to figure out what the next steps are, really, and to feel more confident that it's not a silly thing to pursue.
COACH
OK. So bottom line here, in terms of what we seem to be talking about, is being confident you're making the right decision for yourself and then thinking through what the plan is to go there.
CLIENT
Absolutely. That is what I need to do and not to worry so much about what other people think about that decision.
COACH
OK. So as part of our conversation, I guess, is about thinking about how you can be confident and not worry about what other people think.
CLIENT
I think that's exactly it.
COACH
OK.
CLIENT
Mm.
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Make a note of some of the things that the coach does well. Focus on listening and summarising.

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Comment

Listening and summarising are very important coaching skills, and a coach’s ability to reflect and paraphrase what they are hearing can often be key to a client understanding their issues more clearly.

MC_1

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