Effective listening and ‘The 3 P’s of Coaching Agility’

I recently took part in a webinar called High Velocity Listening: Coaching Agility for the C-Suite.* Why? Well, anything that might deepen my insight into the art of listening grabs me, so you won’t be surprised I waited all agog to hear what  Andreas Bernhardt and Jeff Hull  had to say for themselves. I came away with lots to think about. And I’d like to share some of those thoughts with you…

A blog post can’t do full justice to everything that was covered, but here’s an introduction to Andreas and Jeff’s concept of  ‘The 3 P’s of Coaching Agility’, which are:

  • listening presence
  • listening perspectives
  • listening personas

The 3 P’s of Coaching Agility

1. Listening presence

A webinar about coaching senior executives is going to be about coaching people who are under pressure, with time being of the essence. Such pressure transmits to the coach, who needs to be able to move an often stressed coachee towards action quickly. How can the coach respond?

2 figures listeningFor Jeff the key is active, deep, transformative listening. I’d say this is central to any kind of coaching. If the coachee is stuck, if the coach is unsure where to go next, the answer isn’t always to pull out another tool or craft another question. The answer is effective listening – which means learning to fine tune the ‘self’ as an instrument, using all one’s faculties to engage and listen towards catalysing understanding and motivation.

If listening is done well it has a massive impact on building trust and rapport, as well as the coach’s ability to understand and motivate the coachee. “You inspire people by listening” will be one of the take away quotes for me. This inspirational quality is what translates into ‘coaching agility’.

It’s clear, then, that listening is very important. But is there an optimum ratio for a coach between listening and talking during a coaching session? The closer you get to 80% listening or above the better, but in reality the coach can be listening 100% of the time, even as he or she is speaking. This makes sense when you understand that ‘listening’ includes absorbing all the non-verbal cues the coachee is transmitting, then channelling that information into galvanising thought and insight.

Coloured spirals on head outlinePart of deep, transformative listening is the style of speaking – circular communication. This involves listening and reflecting back, more listening and more reflecting back… building layer upon layer of insightful understanding as a result of being alert to every form of communication, from tone of voice and facial expression to body language and mental attitude. Being ‘heard’ means being ‘felt’. This is not so much a thinking process as the direct experience of words, where responses are emotional and ‘feeling’.

In the final analysis ‘listening’ is really about ‘presence’ – a whole body experience where every sense contributes to the overall picture, which is reflected back to the coachee in cycles that can produce step-functional shifts in perception…

2. Listening perspectives

What is a listening perspective? A listening perspective provides a framework for exploration. Jeff recommended we look into many perspectives, considering how each impacts our coaching, judgements and outcomes, and absorbing the kind of questions each perspective might instigate. Examples are:

  • Positive Psychology   –   “What are your strengths?”
  • Appreciative Inquiry   –   “How do you feel at your best?”
  • Cognitive Psychology   –   “How is your thinking impacting this?”
  • Psychodynamic   –   “What past experiences feel similar to now?”
  • Adult Development   –   “What are your baseline assumptions in life?”
  • Somatic Psychology   –   “What is happening in your body?”

The point here is not to stick to any one coaching model or perspective, but to enable flexibility in being able to react in the moment during coaching sessions to sense which perspective would be most useful NOW to move the coachee forward. Which perspective would bring expanding questions? And being able to answer this depends on the kind of listening presence described above…

3. Listening personas

Andreas took over from here to suggest that everyone is comprised of multiple ‘mini-selves’ or personas, which are dynamic and functional. The stories we create about the ‘self’ are also multiple, and depend on which mini-self we are in at any one time. In fact, we have here the concept of the ‘Inner Theatre’, wherein there are multiple ‘actors’ in the self and multiple ‘voices’ which speak both internally and externally. It flows from this that we are multiple in the way we act as well as in the way we describe who we are.

Masks

What has this got to do with coaching? Well, both coach and coachee have a range of mini-selves or personas. Insight into this means the coach can choose which mini-self she or he uses next in a session to increase effectiveness, which listening persona best suits the moment. The coach can also observe the coachee to gain insight into the mini-selves that are influencing communication at any given time.

Here’s a selection of mini-selves to have a think about…

  • Friend/family  –  well meaning, helping listener
  • Artist  –  creative listener
  • Researcher  –  evidence-based, hypothesis testing listener
  • Anthropologist  –  culture-observing listener
  • Sociologist  –  searching for relations with community/society
  • Doctor/healer  –  diagnosing and healing listener
  • Investigator  –  crime scene analysing, questioning listener

The implications of all this are far-reaching. As Andreas reflected in conclusion:

“Professional coaches can take their coaching agility to another level, when they explore, nurture and train their multiple selves regularly, and connect consciously and responsibly with the selves of their clients.”

Serious stuff – and something we should all take time to think about carefully…


* Part of the online WBECS 7th World Business and Executive Coach Summit 2017 (Pre-Summit programme of webinars), given on Monday 19 June 2017.

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