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Coaching for Good Listening: Very Hard Work (If You Can Get It)

Updated: Jun 10, 2019


TV script writers have learned how to make NOT listening hilarious. The cast of SUPERIOR DONUTS includes the stereotypical older Jewish guy, the cool young artistic black guy, the female cop just a little past her prime and feeling it, the standard ‘ugly’ American, the beautiful Latina, and the successful middle eastern businessman.

Part of what makes this comedy work is that the characters listen for what they want to hear, act on what they thought they understood, then find out later their understanding is wrong – from a tiny bit mistaken all the way to completely off base. Correcting the misunderstandings makes for funny conflict interactions, surprises, and usually brings people together in the end.

Good listening

Good Listeners?

Just like the cast of the show, most of us think of ourselves as pretty good listeners. But that is based on self-assessment that is fundamentally flawed. We think of ourselves as problem solvers with good intentions. When we run across someone who clearly exhibits those “I don’t care what you think” behaviors, it jars us. We think, “what’s wrong with that guy?” Yet, most of us have great difficulty listening. It is very hard work.

Heavy Duty Barriers

In addition to the cultural barriers played on by the scriptwriters, last week’s blog discussed other significant barriers to good listening: content (we don’t have the same knowledge and expertise); psychological (our positive or negative responses to situations based on our psychological make-up; and behavioral style (relationship and analytical preferences.) Individually, any of these barriers can be difficult to overcome but in combination, they are deadly to our objective of good listening.

What’s A Coach To Do?

Let’s look at a typical set of processes, skills, and techniques involved in really good listening:

First, you need to develop the above process map that fits the situation for yourself and the people whom you coach. Everyone needs a clear picture of the entire set of expectations. Everyone needs the same understanding of WHY we want to do things this way. This should be the organization’s vision of success, of why its brand is preferred in the marketplace.

Second, everyone needs to very clearly understand the actions and behaviors they are expected to display, THE WHAT. This is simple to discuss but may be difficult to implement since the conversation can veer away from the desired process quickly. Therefore, people need to know how to redirect the process if it goes astray.

Thirdly, each person needs to understand HOW they can accomplish each step in the process. Many of the steps above have several permutations possible; the skilled listener is constantly making themselves aware of where this process is going, how the other person is involved and how they understand and react to the process, and what to do if the current action is not working as desired.

Good Listening Isn’t A Fortunate Accident

When you look at all the potential decisions and variations that are possible when applying good listening techniques, it is no wonder that people are not really good listeners. You need a coaching plan for each person you want to help. One of the great things about being a coach is that you can help them learn and grow in skill – every day. SUPERIOR COACHES make opportunities to help people practice, to provide frequent feedback, and reinforcement/encouragement to break lifelong listening habits and develop new ones.

The rewards are big, life-changing in some cases. People who have attended our workshops have told us of just how important changing these habits have been to them, how their relationships at work and at home have improved as a result of their making the effort to learn, teach, and coach good listening skills.

Over the years, we’ve been asked many, many times, “why doesn’t my boss practice this?” Usually, it isn’t a matter of bad intentions, it is most likely because they’ve never been taught and coached. And it isn’t easy.

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