Most people are not good listeners; they were told to listen to school, not trained or coached to listen. Usually, when people appear to be listening they are just waiting their turn to speak, and once they do they follow their own agenda. They might talk about something totally unrelated or else want to share their experience, thoughts, and opinions, or give advice. Just for a minute, recall how you felt the last time someone “listened” to you in this way.
Be attentive to answers
A coaching approach means being fully attentive to the coachee’s answers to questions – what is said and the feelings conveyed. Trust will be lost if this doesn’t happen, and the coach will not know the best question to ask next.
Questioning must be a spontaneous process. Questions prepared mentally before they are asked will disrupt the flow of the conversation and not follow the interest or agenda of the coachee. If you are working out the next question while your coachee is speaking, they will be aware that you are not really listening. Far better to hear the person through and then pause if necessary while the next appropriate question comes to mind. And if you’ve really been listening, then your intuition will be your best guide.
WHERE IS YOUR ATTENTION?
Listening is a skill that requires concentration and practice. Yet strangely enough, few people have difficulty listening to the news or to a good radio play. Interest holds attention. Perhaps you need to learn to be interested in others, to allow yourself to get curious. When you really do listen to someone, or when someone really listens to you, how appreciated it is.
When you listen, do you really hear? When you look, do you really see? By that I mean make eye contact with the other person. Obsession with your own thoughts and opinions and the compulsion to talk, particularly if you are placed in any kind of advisory role, are strong. It has been said that since you were given two ears and one mouth, you should listen twice as much as you speak. Perhaps the hardest thing a coach has to learn to do is to shut up!
Words and tone of voice
What do you listen to and for? The coachee’s tone of voice will indicate any emotion and you should listen for it. A monotone may signal low interest or repetition of an old line of thought. A more animated voice will hint at the awakening of new ideas and greater motivation.
The coachee’s choice of words can be very revealing: a predominance of negative terms or a shift toward formality or childish language has hidden meaning that can help the coach to understand and therefore facilitate effectively.
As well as listening, the coach needs to watch the coachee’s body language, not with the purpose of making glib observations, but again to help with the choice of question. The coachee’s high level of interest in the direction of the coaching may well be indicated by a forward posture. Uncertainty or anxiety in answers may be revealed by a hand partially covering the mouth while speaking.
Arms folded across the chest often indicate resistance or defiance, and an open body posture suggests receptivity and flexibility. I am not going to go into the many aspects of body language here, but one guide is that if the words say one thing and the body seems to be saying something else, the body is more likely to indicate the true feelings.
So there are listening, hearing, watching, and understanding and coaches need to be self-aware enough to know which they are doing at any one moment. However clear the coach may feel, it is worth reflecting back to the coachee from time to time and summarizing the points being made. This will ensure correct understanding and reassure the coachee that they are being fully heard and understood.
It also gives them a second chance to check on the veracity of what they have said. In most coaching sessions someone needs to take notes, but this can be agreed between the coach and the coachee. When I am coaching I like to take the notes so that the coachee is free to think.
Finally, good coaches will be applying self-awareness to monitor carefully their own reactions, of emotion or judgment, to any of the coachee’s responses that might interfere with the coach’s necessary objectivity and detachment.
Your own psychological history and prejudices – and no one is free of either – will influence your communication. And monitoring sensations in your own body, like tense shoulders or jitters in your stomach, can give you an insight into emotions that you’ve intuitively picked up from the coachee.
Projection and transference are the terms given to these psychological distortions that all those who teach, guide, coach, or lead others need to learn to recognize and minimize. Projection means projecting onto, or perceiving in, another person your own positive or negative traits or qualities. Transference is “the displacement of patterns of feelings and behavior, originally experienced with significant figures of one’s childhood, to individuals in one’s current relationships.” In the workplace, one of the most common manifestations of this is authority transference.
In any perceived hierarchical relationship, leader/direct report or even coach/coachee, both parties’ issues or unconscious feelings about authority will be operating.
For example, many people give away their power to designated authorities – “they know, have all the answers, are more advanced,” and so on – and make themselves small and childlike in the face of it. This might serve the wishes of an autocratic leader for dominance and dependence, but it works against the objective of coaching, which is to generate responsibility in the coachee.
Another common example of an unconscious transference reaction to authority is rebellion and covert sabotage of work goals and Office com setup goals. Individual transference will increase the collective frustrations and feelings of powerlessness wherever leadership style limits choice. One major motor manufacturer used to be able to assess the state of labor relations from the percentage of good parts dumped in the reject bins alongside the assembly line.
Countertransference, which is a further complication of transference, occurs when people in authority, leaders or coaches, themselves unconsciously react to transference from their own history by perpetuating dependence or rebellion
Good coaches will recognize their potential for this and compensate for the effects of all manifestations of transference by consciously working to empower coachees. If they do not, these distortions will creep into managerial or coaching relationships, with the long-term effect of seriously undermining what their leadership style is intended to achieve.
Social intelligence is one of those rare traits possessed by a really charismatic speaker. Jake’s knowledge of behavioral psychology probably helped him to evaluate the situation better and carefully select the response that would help to defuse the argument, but you don’t need to be an expert in order to become a socially calibrated person. Social intelligence is more down to earth than that. It is about understanding certain crucial factors that affect social life and translating them into verbal and non-verbal cues that affect the way we increase our influence and likeability to others.
In this blog, although my initial intention was to cover important aspects of body language and how it affects our verbal communication, I thought that it would be wiser, from my side, to choose a more unique path.
I will, of course, provide some body language tips, things that are crucial when it comes to speaking, and more specifically the importance of vocal tonality. However, the rest of the blog will be devoted to great examples of social intelligence, examples that find immediate applicability to everyday life.
The importance of vocal tonality
Understanding the importance of vocal tonality in a conversation or speech is crucial when trying to effectively communicate a message. Vocal tonality has the capacity to evoke specific feelings and reveal a hint of your identity through your words. It also affects how people respond to and perceive you. It is this underlying factor that gives a different color to your messages and reinforces your image and your beliefs.
Now, for the purposes of this blog, I will try to simplify the concept of vocal tonality as much as possible, in order not to get lost in generalizations and misconceptions.
Dominant voices express leadership, assertiveness, and security. They show that you are not trying to impress anyone. People will trust you and respect you more if your tone is dominant.
Submissive voices, on the other hand, express uncertainty, passiveness and that you doubt yourself. They show that you are seeking approval or validation from others. If you have a submissive voice, people will distrust you, and almost never pay attention to what you say.
Now, both types are present within each person, to a greater or lesser degree, a balance that is usually affected by the events that we experience and the emotional state we find ourselves in. The truth, however, is that for men, a deep, strong, masculine voice is not without its benefits.
Countless studies have shown that women prefer men with deeper voices and find their words more memorable than men with higher-pitched tones. It is also a common denominator among leaders, politicians, public speakers, and other authoritative figures.
The bottom line is that although you don’t really want to sound like Tony Robbins if you don’t find yourself towards this end of the spectrum, you should definitely start working on your tone of voice.