Are you listening?
One of my clients said to me last week, ‘You are the most amazing active listener and it makes me feel really comfortable and connected with you’. This was a lovely compliment and it reminded me of one of my professional goals in 2017. I wanted to be a better coach and counsellor over the telephone. Since early 2018 I have coached people in leadership over the telephone in remote Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Asia and the UK. I have coached across corporates, state & local governments and industrial companies, through all levels in the organisation. I have become an expert in active listening on the telephone. And here is how.
Vocal Elements - One of my fears about being the telephone was that I would not be able to ‘read’ people. We know that 38% of communication cues are vocal elements and when you are on the telephone you have to use these to compensate for the non-verbal gestures you can’t see. Listening for the tone, the pitch, the mutual understanding signs ( the ‘mmm’ and ‘yep’ and ‘ahhh’) the sighs, the pause and the smile. These gestures are all supporting the clients' message and telling me a story.... at times separate from the words being used. Vocal elements are key for active listening, as they provide the rounded story and often the story the client can’t clearly see themselves.
The Words - The power of words does increase over the phone. My clients know and I know we have to be very clear in our communication style and choice of words and phrasing. I have to use words to compensate for the non-verbal cues. I also set a good pace, clear questions ( one at a time ) and clear explanations. Additionally, my words are often used to clarify how the client feels. Because I can’t see them, will often ask ‘how does that sit with you?’ and ‘how do you feel about that?’.
Give It More Time - I think quickly and coaching has taught me to slow it all down. My job is to listen, to really listen and ask questions that are going to allow the client to create awareness and growth. I have to give my questions and the clients' responses lots of time. Active listening is about being present and giving the space for a person to speak and be heard....this takes time.
The Non-Verbal Clues - So obviously I cannot see my client but I can still get some non-verbal / non-vocal clues. I often ask how my client is today and where they are - at their desk, at home or in a meeting room. I listen for the small things, the pen clicks and the speed of the pen clicks, particularly when I ask a difficult question, the note taking when a realisation or an action is created. The clicking of the mouse or typing, which indicates, I am probably not a priority today. Just like you would interpret that in front of you face to face, I also do over the phone. If I cannot connect with someone and I think it will help our session to talk about it, I will find the right moment to ask my client. Often asking a question about what is going on for them creates the connection we are both looking for.
Laugh, Empathise and Authentically React - When someone tells you something of significance over the phone, it is important to react. We want them to know we have heard them, felt their emotion and we are here for them. I will often have a laugh with a client or offer them empathy.
When I coach or facilitate leaders in communication, I talk a lot about the ‘responsibility’ of you as the communicator. One of those responsibilities is active listening. Everyone should be capable active listeners. As a coach active listening is a core competency. Being a great active listener allows you create trust and connection. It takes presence and practice and something I consciously switch on everyday when I am coaching over the phone, face to face or through Skype.
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