Every coach listens; the difference lies in the ways we each focus on what we’re listening to and how (self-) aware we each are when we’re listening to our client communicate with us.
Learning to listen
My personality is more suited to giving suggestions – it’s easier. I just release whatever is in my mind and in my chest, especially when someone asks, ‘Hey, how does this go?’ Immediately I start to really think. I try to explain the logic and move straight into action, telling them that they therefore should be doing this or doing that. After all, it made full sense to me and then when I see the other person is not doing it or didn’t quite see that’s not such a good or effective way to resolve the issue, then it makes me a little bit frustrated and it’s like, ‘Oh, why am I wasting time to do this? It’s like, ‘Okay, well, then do it your way then. Okay. Whatever.’
But from listening I’ve learnt to really just be there – in that moment and space – and to not think about the next thing that I think they need or what I need to do as part of the coaching process, like coming up with the next questions, or what I should say or think next. Very consciously I try to turn off those sorts of factors that can disturb me from listening. Just by being there listening and even when I do sometimes hear the noise coming in, I acknowledge its presence and then tell it, ‘Okay, go, stay away, stay away.’
Having practised coaching for a number of years now, I have identified two key aspects of my learning:
My most important learning is having the confidence that things will be okay, and nothing will go wrong. I may ask a question that doesn’t work well for the coachee or maybe I don’t clarify well and it doesn’t resonate with the coachee. It’s almost like, ‘It’s okay, things can happen,’ but I just trust the coaching process and the space because ultimately it is for that person. The time is for that person.
The second is that I’m able to remove my needs from the conversations. I’m not the main character in that coaching session. It’s more that the intention of the other person is the reason that I’m there – to be there to support that person. I think that’s maybe the mindset that goes in when I listen. It’s where I experience by really just listening how powerful that is in terms of feeling, seeing that rapport, that trust and the ability of people to feel comfortable to open up right away, almost in the first or second conversation. It’s from that experience that I feel it’s really comfortable to sit back and listen.
Being motivated to listen
Listening, I truly believe, works well for human nature and their relationships. Being able to listen well really does make it more inclusive and expanding in all the multitude of ways of connecting with one another. The foremost is me believing in the coaching philosophy as a way of connecting and building relationships with people. Its philosophy that truly makes sense to me, especially when we are motivated, is that we come up with our own ideas. That’s when we want to do something, we want to make the change, and we want to move forward. I like to be treated that way, which is doing the way I do, how I do it, and when I do it.
The first step in my coaching approach is about listening, even though I was doing this advising, giving suggestions, and solving problems for others. From that approach to really seeing – I, myself, having the experience of being coached while being listened to made me feel like, ‘Wow. It’s almost like getting a mental massage.’ And it just feels so good!
Many of my clients or workshop participants, when given the opportunity to practise listening, or when I listen to them, that’s a feedback they share. They go, ‘Wow. This feels so good.’ It’s more from the experiential side that I experience other people saying it. And there is more. You think you can only listen to, let’s say, the content. Then, the next time you say, ‘Hey, can I hear something beyond that? Maybe I’m able to hear how this person actually feels or what’s actually going on?’ You can really explore, depending on the person’s, the coachee’s, condition, mood, and ability on the day.
It’s fun. It feels good. And I think that’s where the motivation comes from for listening, for me:
One of my biggest motivations comes from the feedback of others, when workshop participants and my coachees say, ‘Hey, I really realize that as a leader what I’m missing is active listening. I go, ‘Well, why? What makes you realize that?’ The person goes, ‘Well, Keiko, I spent the last entire hour – you were just listening and I really just had experienced such a wonderful time being listened to and I really sense this power of what listening can do to a person. That’s why it’s something that I want to do for my team members from now on.’
The second motivator is from myself whereby I have that curiosity in terms of, ‘Let’s see today what I’m able to hear and listen to.’ It’s about experimenting rather than a simple performance improvement in a skill.
Listening is more than hearing
Listening is deeper. It enables you to go in all sorts of directions. It’s like a tree. When you’re listening, you’re going down to the roots of the tree, whereas when you’re hearing, it’s above. It’s what you see, it’s the information, it’s content – that’s what I’m hearing. Hearing is more about receiving the message. For example, if someone says, ‘I’ve been working really hard and this is really difficult.’ If you just hear it, then it’s really just, ‘Okay, you’ve been working hard.’ You don’t have to have that connection.
Listening needs empathy. This really helps to connect more with the other person, as if you are in the space of the other person. I think we have to tune ourselves to be asking, ‘Where is that person?’ How well you can do it depends on your condition. Let’s say you’re frustrated, or you are really nervous. I’m sure all those factors somehow will affect every one of us in terms of our ability to listen. The bottom line is the mentality or the mindset of, ‘I am here with you. I’m here in your space. It’s not about me.’
That to me is listening.
Listening leads to (self-) acceptance
What I’m saying here is when you listen you’re listening for the other person’s sake; it’s not for your own needs of getting what you want to know. I’m there for her or for him and so, if anything goes wrong, or if something I share doesn’t sink in well, I just change to something else. It takes away the fear and the worries for me when I am able to listen.
I’m aware that at certain times I go, ‘Yes, okay. That phone beat just affected my listening.’ I’m aware of how I’m listening while I’m listening and then I’m able to say, ‘Okay. That’s disturbing me. Okay. Put that aside. Come back to the moment.’ Having that awareness while you are listening, I believe, also has something to do with (self-) acceptance.
Accepting. ‘Yes, I’m not always in my best condition but I have the intention of being here. My intention is fully to be with you here but I’m also a human being. There are all sorts of factors that can disturb me, so when I’m aware of that, I try to put that aside.’
Accepting myself while I’m listening. For example, in my listening class somebody made a comment. I tend to think, ‘Oh, okay, why did that person say that?’ but then I go, ‘Okay, put that aside, now that the next person is talking, come back to here; come to this present moment.’
It’s that self-acceptance, that allowing yourself to say, ‘Hey, that’s okay’ and being aware of the small little turbulences here and there. Turbulence is all right. Come back. Be here. Even when I was thinking of something else momentarily, it’s about accepting yourself and being a human, being mindful and being aware of how you’re listening and saying, ‘It’s okay.’
Listening, for me, is very rich and enriching. It’s safe. It’s fun. I think that is also what self-acceptance is. To just be in the moment and just know that sometimes you won’t always be at your best in every moment of the conversation; you won’t always listen as well as some other time. It’s okay because we’re human. It’s all right. And that’s how we can accept our coachee too. For example, they didn’t do their actions as they said they were going to do. So, it’s not just about holding them accountable and saying, ‘Hey, let’s talk about what happened and what can you do next time?’ It’s allowing ourselves and others to be human. And then that takes me back to my coaching philosophy: it’s about understanding. It’s about giving the space to yourself, and to the other person. It’s about creating that space and that level of trust that things will go well, and will be fine.
To connect with Keiko Shinohara
Keiko is an executive coach trained with Results Coaching Systems, one of the largest global coaching organizations. She is also a Certified Behavioral Consultant trained in DISC, Enneagram, and Workplace Big Five.
Having studied and worked in Hong Kong, Japan, mainland China, Singapore, and Canada, Keiko is multicultural and multilingual, and delivers training and coaching in English, Japanese, Mandarin, and Cantonese. She has worked with a wide variety of clients including financial services, IT, consulting, engineering, HR, sales and marketing. She has supported her clients to achieve exceptional results in leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, staff engagement, and personal management.