How to Use Active Listening Skills to Coach Others


How to Use Active Listening Skills to Coach Others

If you want to be an impactful coach, start by being a great listener.

In a 2018 study conducted by Harvard Business Review, two people in a workplace were matched up together–one being the speaker, the other, the listener. What the speaker didn’t know is that their counterpart was either assigned to listen attentively, or their counterpart was purposefully distracted by outside elements like texts being sent to their phone during the exercise. In every instance the study found that speakers who were paired with good listeners  felt less anxious, more self-aware, and more confident in their own knowledge of the topic at hand (Harvard Business Review, 2018). 

The findings suggested that when it comes to helping people change for the better and feel more confident, listening goes much farther than critiquing. 

I’ve been a business and career coach for women of color for over 6 years now, and those 6 years have come with many lessons learned about what makes coaching truly effective and empowering for my clients. The coaching industry can be fraught with business and career coaches who feel that their job is to do all the talking–to tell their clients what to do, when to do it, and why what they’re doing isn’t working. It’s a misconception that has sadly made many people lose hope in the validity of coaching as a whole. 

In reality, being a great coach is about seeing and connecting with people as human beings first and foremost, especially for women of color who often are facing other barriers that may go unnoticed in a typical setting. And guess what sets the foundation for real connection: active listening. In my work, I’ve learned that sitting back to pay attention and really listen to my clients leads to so many important breakthroughs that would otherwise be missed if I were talking over them. 

Whether you’re a coach, a business owner with a small team, or an executive managing others, enhancing your active listening skills is a surefire way to create impactful coaching interactions that resonate and benefit everyone involved.

Foundation of Connection and Empowerment

Alright, picture this: you’re in a conversation at work where someone is truly listening to you, focusing on every word, and making eye contact like they’re genuinely interested – how amazing does that feel? That’s what active listening does for people. These cues we give others, which are often nonverbal body language, foster rapport and create a safe space that allows our clients and team members to receive guidance without feeling overwhelmed. 

Active listening serves as the foundation for effective communication and in building strong coaching relationships. When we connect with people as human beings and give a thoughtful response before anything else, we ensure that they feel seen and understood. In my own experience as a woman of color and through the work I do with my clients, I see how impactful and important active listening can be in validating our unique cultural experiences, which builds trust and connection. Because at the end of the day, why would anyone listen to your advice if they don’t feel that you truly understand their lived experiences without judgment?

Strategies for Impactful Coaching

So how do you uplevel your coaching through active listening? I’ll share some basic strategies to help improve your active listening skills.

Ask Probing Questions

Utilizing probing questions to uncover deeper insights allows you to better understand the unique situations and thoughts of your clients and team members. Now, probing might sound a bit invasive, but essentially it just means that you want to engage more deeply with your clients with follow up questions, and questions that hit on patterns that you are noticing. Probing questions are questions that ask someone to go deeper. 

Make sure to always use “I messages” to help your client understand that the question is coming from an observation or curiosity you have. Some examples:

  1. If someone is venting or complaining, they may not want an answer. Ask clarifying questions like, “I notice you’re sharing your frustrations about [xyz]. What do you need from me right now that would be most helpful? Do you need a solution, feedback, or just a listening ear?”
  2. Ask questions to go deeper like, “I’m hearing you talk more about your mom lately, can you share why this might be coming up?”

Make a Judgement Free Zone

Suspending judgment during conversations creates an environment where individuals feel safe to share openly and honestly. On an instinctual level, we are all judgemental beings–it’s how we survive! But when it comes to coaching, it’s important not to respond with judgment and to stay focused on empathy first

If you notice someone is annoyed or that they’re being noticeably emotional, ask “I notice that more emotions are coming up when talking about [abc]. What’s coming up for you?”

Giving an opportunity to go deeper into the emotions rather than judging them is key to holding that safe space for coaching clients. And if you need guidance on struggling to suspend judgment, find some articles or podcasts that talk about emotional intelligence and soft skills!

Give Undivided Attention

Recently, I was given feedback from a client about not feeling that I was fully present on a call we had. In reality, I had a full day of back to back calls and was rushing to show up on time and still have time to eat something. While my wavering attention was not an indication of how invested I was in who I was talking to, I immediately saw the importance of giving coaching clients undivided attention. What did I do? I immediately implemented buffer time between calls and put a max number of calls on my calendar each day.

Being fully present and giving full attention to your clients while staying focused on what they are sharing is hugely important when it comes to being an impactful coach. We all have off days, but giving undivided attention during important conversations showcases genuine interest and your commitment to understanding your clients needs and experiences. 

Refine Active Listening With Practical Exercises

The good news is that improving your active listening skills can be done anytime, from anywhere! There are so many great practical exercises aimed at refinding your active listening skills, enabling coaches and supervisors to fine-tune their ability to engage effectively. 

You can try:

  • Silent listening challenge – ask a trusted friend to tell you all about a current situation they are in and challenge yourself NOT to but in or interrupt. At the end, ask if you understood their situation by reiterating it back to them.
  • Recap podcasts for practice – listen to a podcast on a topic you may not fully be aware of and take notes of your key points and takeaways. This will help your brain tune in to important details or recurring themes in conversations!
  • Mirroring emotions, enthusiasm, and tone – being able to gauge someone’s enthusiasm and tone during a conversation is an essential part of active listening. Have you ever told a story excitedly only to get a lackluster response? It doesn’t make for a fulfilling conversation.
  • Asking for direct feedback – the first step to getting better at something is to be more self-aware of our possible improvements. Ask a trusted person during conversations, “Do you have any feedback for me? Anything to do less or more of during our time together?”

Transformative Impact and Collective Empowerment

Let’s step back and look at the bigger picture. The ripple effect of active listening in coaching is nothing short of remarkable. Imagine a boost in confidence, immense professional and personal growth, and an overall sense of well-being for your clients. It’s like igniting a coaching firework. And when we’re discussing being women of color in the coaching space, this impact is even more profound – a coach that listens well can gives us courage to shape our paths, helping to propel us to new heights because we feel safe and understood.

It’s so important to note that active listening isn’t a solitary endeavor; it’s a shared experience. Picture this: a gathering of women of color, each sharing their unique insights, experiences, and narratives. It’s not just empowerment; it’s the forging of a collective community. In this community, everyone’s growth sparks others, and together, we’re not just coaches, business owners, or executive leaders – we’re catalysts for change. That’s exactly why I have spent years creating my Color Your Dreams Retreat for women of color and allies–so that we can come together and learn from each other through the power of conscious conversations.

Active listening goes beyond words. It’s the unsung hero of communication, capturing the unspoken. It’s not merely about honing your listening skills; it’s about becoming a conductor of empowerment and effective problem solving. When you’re fully present, tuning in to nuance, your coaching transforms for the better and allows for a more genuine and insightful exchange of ideas. 

If you would like further support in your career, business, or leadership, my team and I would love to support you in creating a sustainable life! You can schedule a 30-minute legacy business or career review call with me to see if it’s a good fit to work together, and you’ll receive 3 action-items from me.

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You just got to the end,
Legacy Maker!

Before you go to another page, sign up for my free, weekly Color Your Dreams Newsletter where I dish the latest business tips, career secrets and legacy advice!