Learning to be attentive to meaning and significance in what a client is saying is calledintuitive listening.Meaning isn’t conveyed only in words: voice tone, body language, the context of the conversation, and even our own gut responses to what we’re hearing all combine with the words to create meaning.
Intuitive listening is the combination of conscious, unconscious and spirit-generated responses to what we hear. Another word we might use for it isdiscernment. The way we commonly use the word “discernment” puts more emphasis on the spiritual side of the equation. Since coaching is not about hearing God for others—it’s about helping them hear God for themselves, I’ve chosen to use the word “intuition” to describe the process.
In a coaching conversation, maybe two facts in a story don’t quite line up, or the person responded in an unusual way given the circumstances, or something was said that didn’t make sense. You may not even be conscious of exactly what got your attention, but through intuitive listening your intuition assured you that something was there. Curiosity and intuition tend to go hand in hand. When something makes you curious, it’s usually a sign you are picking something up with your intuition.
When I’m in advice-giving mode, I register what my intuition says, draw conclusions from it and act on intuitive listening by advising the person. My intuition drives and directs the process. But when I’m coaching, I register what my intuition says without trying to figure out what it all means. My curiosity points me to interesting places that I then ask the client to explain and explore. By using my intuition to ask instead of tell, I keep the client in charge while still offering a valuable, active contribution to the process.
A big part of that contribution is the feedback you offer to the client in the form of your questions. By asking about what made you curious, about what seems most important, you rapidly focus people on the point of greatest significance and meaningin their own thoughts and words. Your curiosity brings focus, but the insights, conclusions and solutions you’re focusing on are the client’s, not yours. The client is still in charge of the conversation. Your contribution as a coach is employing your intuition to help the client process more effectively.
Tony Stoltzfus is a best-selling author, leadership coach, master coach trainer and director of the Leadership Metaformation Institute. Additional information on the role of listening in the coaching relationship can be found in Tony’s book,Leadership Coaching.