As a leader you’ve probably been involved in some pretty uncomfortable conversations. The ability to listen and respond appropriately during coaching opportunities is a developed skill. Whether a team member truly feels heard or not can make a big difference in your relationship with them and your ability to coach them through challenges.
Before you enter into a conversation try checking to see how present you are. Bringing in your emotions from your last meeting or task can affect how you are received and whether you are open to listening for information rather than confirmation.
Next, consider the three areas you want to listen from during the conversation.
Your head – Are you curious about what the person has to say? Are you listening to the words they are using to describe how they feel or think about the situation they are describing?
Your heart – Are you listening with compassion and care?
Your gut – Are you listening with courage? Do you hear something from the team member that you know needs to be modified or questioned and do you have the courage to challenge them about it?
Here’s an exercise to help you learn to listen from all 3 areas that I found in a great book by Marcia Reynolds about entering into the “Discomfort Zone”:
You can do this with 3 people. One person is the coach, the second person is being coached and the third person can time the rounds for you so you can concentrate on listening.
Round 1 (Read first before listening) The person will talk about her situation for two minutes. You will listen quietly from your head. Be curious. What do you want to know? What doesn’t make sense? What pieces of the picture are missing? How does the person know if the reasons for her actions are sound? Listen for understanding and clarity. When the timer goes off after two minutes, you can make one reflective statement and ask one question. Do not say more than two sentences! Remember, your partner will not answer you until you are ready to start Round 2. Set the time for two minutes and listen with curiosity from an open mind.
Round 2 Before your partner answers your Round 1 question, take a breath and clear your mind. Recall someone or something you deeply care about. See this person or thing you love. Take a deep breath in, smile, and say to yourself the word love, care, or gratitude. Feel your heart opening. Then when your partner speaks, silently listen for emotional cues. Is he/she excited? Resentful? Guilty? Worried? What does he/she want more than anything? What’s getting in the way? Try to keep sensing from your heart without thinking. If you go back into your head, look at the person in front of you. Regard him/her with compassion and care. Remember he/she is doing what they can to work through this issue. If you judge her, forgive yourself and reopen your heart to her words. When the timer goes off after two minutes, you can make one reflective statement and ask one question. Again, your partner will not answer until you are prepared to start Round 3. Now, reset the time for two minutes and listen from your heart.
Round 3 Before your partner answers your Round 2 question, sit up straight and recall a time you felt gutsy and determined in spite of your fear. Recall how you felt as you took action or spoke your mind. As you inhale, say the word courage to yourself. Let the word settle into the core of your body just below your navel before you exhale. When you listen to your partner, receive the words, feelings, gestures, and pauses through your gut. What is she protecting? What is driving his/her choices? When the timer goes off after two minutes, make one reflective statement and ask one question. These statements may be more challenging than before. Be courageous. This time you can let your partner respond to your question after you ask it. Try to keep listening from your gut instead of returning to your head as you continue the conversation. Now, set your timer for two minutes and listen with strength from your gut.
Completion– After you finish the conversation, take a few minutes to talk about the differences in your listening at each level and in the questions you asked. Ask your partner how she felt in each round to see if there were differences in the impact of your questions.
Exercise and concept taken from: Reynolds, Marcia (2014-10-13). The Discomfort Zone: How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations Into Breakthroughs (BK Business) (p. 79). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.