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  • Writer's pictureChristian Hartley, PCC

All About Active Listening

Updated: Jan 13

Listens Actively is one of 8 ICF Core Competencies we review in our 6 month Life, Leadership, & Executive Coaching Program. In this blog post we define active listening, discuss the neuroscience of active listening, and provide you with tips to effectively incorporate this skill in your coaching work and relationships.

Defining & Differentiating Active Listening Before we get started, let's start with a few definitions to get us grounded.

  • Hearing can be defined as noticing sound, and receiving information.

  • Listening can be defined as a process of receiving, constructing meaning, and responding to spoken and non-verbal messages.

  • Active listening is defined by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) as focusing on what is (and is not being said) by a client in a way that considers their unique context (beliefs, values, identities, experiences, motivations, perceptions, etc.)

As coaches, we practice active listening to demonstrate care for others and connect with them on a deeper level; something we seldom experience as many of us use social media and virtual interfaces to connect. But when we listen actively, we not only deepen our understanding of the client's experience, we also improve our ability to cultivate compassion, trust, and safety. This encourages client's to express themselves fully, and helps ensure they are driving the session.

8 Tips for Active Listening

When we practice active listening, we dig beyond the surface (what is said) into the underlying message (what is meant and felt). By observing body language, tone of voice, non-verbal cues, and key words we are better able to help our clients find clarity. Below are 8 tips for incorporating active listening in your coaching:

  1. Stay present – your focus is a gift. Mange your emotions, your ego, and remove all distractions.

  2. Cease judgements about the speaker & center their context.

  3. Demonstrate curiosity and care by uncrossing arms/legs and maintaining a neutral, but engaged facial expression

  4. Focus on feelings, values, & themes to understand what’s most important. Avoid getting caught up in story details

  5. Explore energy shifts and non-verbal cues to move beyond the surface.

  6. Ask questions to generate insights about the client’s situation (the what) or their experience (the who).

  7. Use the client’s words, metaphors, and phrases to turn open ended questions into powerful questions.

  8. Learn your client’s verbal/non-verbal cues and sense-making patterns to cultivate awareness and facilitate,


Active Listening in Our Program

We dedicate an entire lesson to supporting our students in mastering the ICF Core Competency 6, Listens Actively. We help our students become aware of the barriers to active listening, and discuss the importance of self refection in the coaching process to overcome poor communication habits that impair connection and understanding.

We even talk about the power of listening and the phenomenon of neural coupling; when brain waves between the speaker and listener mirror one another. This example of resonance provides proof that active listening has observable, physiological impacts on both the coach and client! Let’s Make it Happen Do you want to become an effective active listener and gain other valuable coaching skills? Register for a free info session to learn about our Life, Leadership, & Executive Coaching Program.

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