ICF Core Competencies 6: Listens Actively

active listening icf core competencies nancy kline Feb 05, 2024

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Active listening is a key component of impactful coaching conversations. During active listening, the listener is fully engaged, entirely present, and wholly focused on the person they are in conversation with.

They set aside their own thoughts, assumptions, and inner dialogues to tune into what is being communicated—both the spoken words and the unspoken. The purpose is not to offer advice, direction, or personal anecdotes but to facilitate new thinking and insights for the thinker.

This isn’t always easy for coaches and can take practice, once learned it is a powerful tool for a coaching toolbox and can be used in coaching “sessions’ but also in everyday impactful conversations.

Active listening leads to deeper insights and more meaningful communication; it lies at the heart of powerful coaching conversations. The coach as a facilitator, creates a powerful space for new thinking and awareness—for growth and forward momentum.

In essence, it's about listening to facilitate the thinker's thinking.

As author Nancy Kline states, "The quality of your attention determines the quality of other people's thinking."

We can spend our lives never being fully listened to. Offering someone a space like this can feel different for them, unfamiliar. Remembering competency 3 it is worthwhile explaining what a coaching conversation is to someone before starting.

Active listening may involve reflections or summaries of what is being communicated. This not only aids the coach in gaining clarity and understanding but also helps the thinker with new learning and perspectives in the moment. For the coach, it's not about reciting everything verbatim (something I sometimes see in mentor coaching sessions), but more about capturing key words, sentences, observations, or thought-provoking questions.

Through active listening, coaches can notice subtleties and areas where things might be left unsaid. Coaches can remain curious, asking questions like, "I hear what you're saying, is there anything you're not saying?"

Through active listening coaches can remain curious to emotions, shifts in energy, non-verbal cues, and other behaviours.

Coach: "I notice a shift in your energy as you talk about this?"

Remember, active listening extends beyond words; it encompasses everything happening in the coaching space.

Following the ICF competencies means that the coach will have already discussed what the thinker wants to get from the conversation.  This is setting the agenda of what you are doing together (comp 3).  Active listening is not about the coach filling in blanks for themselves but for the coach to support the thinker to reach that identified outcome.

As coaches work with thinkers or coaching partners over a series of sessions, they can notice trends. Through active listening, coaches can identify recurring themes and patterns to explore in collaboration with the thinker.

Active listening is a key competency in effective coaching.

It supports thinkers to discover their own solutions, gain fresh perspectives and create connections.

By actively listening coaches create a transformative space where thinkers experience growth and meaningful outcomes are achieved.