Active listening is one of the ICF’s 8 revised core competencies. However, for a Christian life, active listening is more than a core competency. When we are in the mode of active listening, we are reflecting our heavenly father, who hears every word we say. For example, 1 Peter 3:12 says, “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer….” 1 John 5:15 tells us, “And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.:
Active listening a way of hearing and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding. Often when people talk to each other, they don’t listen attentively. They are often distracted, half listening, half thinking about something else. When people are engaged in a conflict, they are often busy formulating a response to what is being said. They assume that they have heard what their opponent is saying many times before, so rather than paying attention, they focus on how they can respond to win the argument.
It is important to remember that the ICF certification requirements require coaches to fully integrate the core competencies, into their coaching sessions, including active listening, and an accredited life coaching program—and credentialed coaches—must adhere to these.
Active listening is a structured form of listening and responding that focuses the attention on the speaker. The coach must take care to attend to their client fully, and then repeats, in the client’s own words, what he or she thinks the client has said. The coach does not have to agree with the client; he or she must simply state what they think the client said. This enables the client to find out whether the coach really understood what he or she is saying. If the coach did not, the client can clarify, making sure there is clear communication.
Often, the coach is encouraged to interpret the client’s words in terms of feelings. Thus, instead of just repeating what happened, the active listener coach might add, “I gather that you felt angry or frustrated or confused when. . . [a particular event happened]. Then the client can then go beyond confirming that the coach understood what happened, and can further expound on their thoughts and feelings. This creates what is called “psychological safety” in which there is a bond of trust between coach and client.
Active listening has several benefits. First, it forces people to listen attentively to others. Second, it avoids misunderstandings, as people have to confirm that they do really understand what another person has said. Third, it tends to open people up, to get them to say more.
For example, a couple turns to a coach for help with overcoming conflicts. When people are in conflict, they often contradict each other, denying the opponent’s description of a situation. They also take a stand to defend their viewpoint and attack the other person’s viewpoint. This tends to make people defensive, and they will either lash out, or withdraw and say nothing more. A coach can help the couple practice active listening, the coach can help the couple to understand that the other person needs to feel their spouse is really attuned to their concerns and wants to listen. When this happens, each person is more likely to explain in detail what they feel and why. If both spouses do this, the chances of being able to develop a solution to their mutual problem becomes much greater.
Active Listening Skills
The best Christian life coaching programs will all promote the skill of active listening. As a Christian coach, how do you know if you are truly listening actively? Be sure you are doing the following ABCs:
A: Eye contact – Maintaining eye contact is imperative. This doesn’t mean you “bore” into your coachee’s eyes; it means that you don’t allow your eyes to wonder around the room or otherwise get distracted.
B: Posture – It’s okay to be relaxed when setting, but don’t slouch. Sitting up straight and maintaining good body posture shows you are engaged in the conversation.
C: Gesture – Hand gestures are fine, but if you tend to be someone who is demonstrative, hand gestures can be distractive. Keep these appropriate to the conversation at hand.\
As a certified life coach, using an acronym is a great way to remind yourself of something you need to do. S.O.L.E.R. represents five steps to attentive listening:
Squarely face your client – Doing so maintains an open channel of dialogue
Open your posture – Instead of crossing your arms, doing something as simple as resting your arms on your chair while tell you coachee that you are open to hearing what they have to say.
Lean towards the sender – When you slightly lean towards our client, you are blocking out everything else around you and creating an intimate and open environment.
Eye contact maintained – Stay focused on your coachee, not on what is going on around you.
Relax while attending – If you are relaxed, your client will be relaxed as well.
As an ICF certified life coaching program, Aim Higher delves into the characteristics of active listening. One of these is “paraphrasing.” Paraphrasing is an important skill to learn as a Christian life coach. In essence, the coach is restating what the coachee is saying using fewer words, in a way that it is clear the coachee knows the coach understands exactly what he or she is saying. Whenever possible try and get to the point in a succinct manner.
To test your understanding of what you heard.
To communicate that you are trying to understand what is being said. If you’re successful, paraphrasing indicates that you are following the coachee’s conversation and you’re fully grasping their message.
When listening actively consider asking yourself:
What is the speaker’s basic thinking message?
What is the person’s basic feeling message?
Client: I just don’t understand. One minute she tells me to do this, and the next minute to do that.
Coach: I understand that you feel really confused with the direction you’re given.
Client: I really think he’s a great coworker. He’s so thoughtful, sensitive, and kind. And he’s always coming around my desk.
Coach: It’s sounds like you two have great chemistry.
As an ICF certified Christian life coach, there will be times when you are not sure what your client is saying. When you say, “Here’s what I’m hearing … is that correct?” you are clarifying or aligning what you are hearing to what is being said.
What is Clarifying? It is the process of bringing vague material into sharper focus.
What is the purpose of clarifying?
- To untangle unclear or wrong listener interpretation
- To get more information
- To help the speaker see other points of view
- To identify what was said
For example, you might say to your client:
- “I’m confused. Let me try to sate what I think you were trying to say.”
- “You’ve said so much, let me see if I’ve got it all.”
Another active listening skill you can acquire is called “perception checking.”
Because we are human, we all have certain biases, based on our personal history. A bias is simply the slant or “way” we view things. Therefore, coaches and clients have their own biases.
Speaking of Jesus, Isaiah 11:3 states, “And He will delight in the fear of the Lord, And He will not judge by what His eyes see, Nor make decisions by what His ears hear;” As a Christian life coach, we want to do our best to eliminate our biases when we are coaching.
Perception checking is asking the client to verify your perception of what is being said or presented. It is a request for verification of your perceptions. The purpose of perception checking is to:
To give and receive feedback.
To check out your assumptions.
Expose any bias.
For example, you might say:
“Let me see if I’ve got it straight. You said that you love your children and that they are very important to you. At the same time, you can’t stand being with them. Is that what you’re really saying?”
Always keep in mind that the best Christian life coaching programs will dive deep into the ICF core competencies. Summarizing is another must-have skill when actively listening.
As an ICF certified Christian life coach, the ability to summarize quickly gives you the skill to “pull together,” to “organize,’ and to integrate the major parts of your coachee’s conversation. This is a great skill to have when your client is someone who talks a lot. Summarizing allows you to pay attention to various themes and emotional overtones, and to put key ideas and feelings into broad statements, while not adding any new ideas or information.
The purpose of summarizing is to:
To give a sense of movement and accomplishment in the exchange.
To establish a basis for further discussion.
Pull together major ideas, facts, and feelings.
For example, you might say to your client:
“You’ve made a good number of points about your job. Let’s go over them and write them down so we are both clear.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. As a Christian life coach, empathy must be a motivating factor throughout your coaching sessions. Empathy is also foundational to the ICF Code of Ethics, and the best life coaching program emphasize a coach’s need to empathize. Consider that point #2 under “Foundation” states the coach: Is sensitive [i.e., empathetic] to clients’ identity, environment, experiences, values and beliefs.
As a Christian life coach, in order to be empathetic towards your coachee, you should develop a deep understanding of:
- who they are
- how they became that person
- what they know
- how they learned it
- what they hold dear
- why they hold it dear
- how they feel
- why they feel that way
Consider that Romans 12:15 tells us to, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”
Empathy helps you to reflect on the content of what is being said and the feelings behind the conversation. The purpose is to:
To show that you truly understand your coachee’s experience
Allow the coachee to evaluate his or her feelings after hearing them expressed by you as their coach
Empathy has a basic formula: You feel (state feeling) because (state content)
Client: I just don’t know how I am going to get all my work in the time my boss has given me. Coach: I sense you feel frustrated and feel stuck. I’ve been in similar situations. Tell me more about what you’re feeling.
As an ICF certified life coach, having a deep understanding of empathy and the skills involved will endear you to your clients. Active listening builds trust, and trust allows your client to feel safe with you. Active listening keeps you engaged your client’s conversation in a positive way. As you build your active listening skills, you will become a better communicator and increase your client’s satisfaction with their coaching sessions.