Coaching is the art of facilitating new thinking through deep listening, love, and silence. I stumbled upon this video of Nithya Shanti, a former monk turned Axialent Advisory Board Member. Ever since, I strive to remind myself of this framework in all my coaching sessions. In this post, I’ll suggest strategies to practice these 3 behaviors.
Active listening is one of the core, ICF competencies. As coaches, it is our sacred commitment to truly listen. But, how do you do that amidst a myriad distractions? Can we really listen where there are competing priorities on our calendars? When I first began coaching, this was the hardest thing to do. I was utterly and completely consumed by the following questions:
- Should I switch on video? If yes, should I focus on making eye contact or should I focus on listening?
- If I switched on my webcam, is it alright for me to look at my notes? Or would that result in a loss of credibility?
- Should I anticipate what my client is going to say and prepare my next questions?
- Maybe I should listen harder….then, I can be ahead of my client by a few steps.
- Taking notes + being on video + tracking with the conversation + being comfortable with European, Asian, or thick British accents = Aaargh!
The truth is that very little of this discomfort “showed”. Most of my clients completed the coaching conversations with reflection, powerful insights, and strong action. In other words, I worked hard to not let these come in the way. But I was also placing undue pressure on myself as a coach. Because I had to work doubly hard to quiet the inner chatter. But, imagine how I would have flourished and much sooner if only I practiced deep listening!
How can you practice Deep Listening?
Nithya Shanti refers to Deep Listening as a kind of meditation. Ask the greatest meditation practitioners and they will tell you just how long and hard they worked to become masterful at it! But, what about little, steps you can take to begin the process? Here are a few that I practice:
- Prepare and set aside at least 30 minutes (if not an hour) before every coaching session.
- Switch off wi-fi on additional devices (unless absolutely necessary).
- Keep pen and paper handy (or digital notebook ready) to take notes.
- Close your eyes (if possible) and concentrate on what your client is saying, what they’re not saying.
- Notice what you’re feeling and sensing – not just about your client but also about your own thoughts.
- Be inwardly quiet.
Deep Love, The Agape Way
The Greek word ‘Agape‘ is the term that refers to love. It means ‘to let be’. What a powerful definition of love! Wait, where does love come into the picture in the world of coaching? Especially when you’re working with extremely successful and ambitious leaders and executives. In the world of positive psychology and the strengths framework, it shows up in the form of seeing your clients for who they already are. It’s in the form of honoring your clients for the wonderful strengths and potential they bring. How we support and hold them in that conversation creating a space of safety and trust.
If this sounds all soft and fluffy, it pays to remember that love is actually more terrifying than any other emotion. Coaching with deep love probably takes years of practice and intent. Because, it takes enormous restraint and wisdom to let be.
How can you practice Deep Love in Coaching?
Every coaching session is an opportunity to practice deep love. Regardless of where you are today, in terms of coach experience and expertise. Here are a few approaches I apply:
- 60-second deep breathing exercise before every call where I reaffirm my intent to help and support my client.
- When I hear them say something that doesn’t resonate with me, I notice that I had a reaction (mentally) but continue to take notes. I don’t feed that reaction.
- I find ways to connect and relate – we’re both human! We’re vulnerable, courageous, and willing to have these conversations that require us to open up. We’re willing to do the hard work that is necessary to move forward.
- Assume positive intent – this is hard. Especially if there’s history. But, I assume positive intent until proven otherwise. If I’m proven otherwise, I can still take a call from a place of deep love.
Last week, I was coaching a dear friend (who is an excellent coach) and it was an important session. The recorded call was to be sent to my assessor for my coach skill evaluation. During the call, my friend was stuck in a dilemma. Somewhere during that discussion, I fell into the trap of not holding the silence. And politely asked if I could recommend something. Did she benefit from my suggestion? Perhaps. But, was she so desperate and stuck that she couldn’t move forward without my suggestion? In her own words: No.
I may have been nervous about the recording but that’s no excuse! So, I do realize that observing deep silence is work in progress. Coaching is about simply being a witness to the conversation while still holding deeply, your intent to support your client.
How can you practice Deep Silence?
Some of the best coaches I ever worked with have taught me the following:
- Say nothing – become extremely comfortable with long pauses and silence in the discussion.
- As my dear friend and coach reminded me: ask: “what else comes to your mind?” “what other thoughts are you considering?”
- Ask a clarifying question to see if you have understood what your client is saying.
- Use the silence to focus on what your client might be thinking. What are they not saying? What do they really want? How do they feel about the situation? etc.
- Know that it’s work in progress and don’t punish yourself when you struggle!
If you’re a new coach, I’m keen to learn about what’s working well for you. If you’re an experienced coach, what strategies do you employ to create powerful outcomes for your coaching conversations? Please leave a comment here or on any other social media channel you read this! Thank you.
Anitha Aswath is a Senior Leadership Coach, Team Consultant, and Global Facilitator. She has a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology and is trained by The Marcus Buckingham Company in StandOut and Strengths Coaching for Business Leaders. She is currently pursuing Brain-Based Coaching Certification from the NeuroLeadership Institute. An avid photographer, blogger, aviation enthusiast, Anitha is also a student of Indian Classical Music of the Hindustani style.
In an illustrious career spanning 20 years, she has served organizations like General Electric, IBM, Goldman Sachs, Target, and Cisco in regional and global capacities. As a Leadership Coach, she works with clients from all over the world to serve, teach, and enable the success of leaders and their teams.
THIS IS A PERSONAL BLOG AND VIEWS DON’T REPRESENT ORGANIZATION STRATEGIES OR OPINIONS.