Today there are many people longing to speak with someone who will listen to their personal problems and challenging situations. What is more frustrating than speaking to another person without being heard? We have all been there as a friend checks their cell-phone messages while we are trying to talk with them; or when discussing personal family matters with a close friend they focus on something else. Perhaps you are guilty of hesitating in the middle of a conversation to send a text message while your co-worker is attempting to talk to you. This conduct sends an unintentional bypassing message you are not interested in what others have to say. These situations, and many more like them, in a moment, can be annoying and deeply hurtful.
“Mastering coaching requires masterful listening, attuned and adept, and the ability to maximize the listening interaction. There is action in listening.”
Most of us take the art of listening for granted and do not consider developing this important coaching skill. Poor listening habits can carry over to our coaching conversations where effective communication is essential as we attempt to build relationships, clarify issues, and understand the people who have agreed to our coaching format. According to Laura Whitworth et al, author of Co-Active Coaching, listening is not passive, “Mastering coaching requires masterful listening, attuned and adept, and the ability to maximize the listening interaction. There is action in listening.”
It has been said ,”If good counselors listen, good coaches are active listeners.”
Active Listening is a core competency of The International Coaching Federation (ICF) whereby the coach focuses in toto on what the client is saying and not saying, to understand the meaning of what is said in the context of the client’s desires, and to support client self-expression. Active listening serves several important functions. First, it helps you as the coach to understand what your client said and, more importantly, what he or she meant. By reflecting backward, or reframing, and recognizing perceived meanings from the client, such cognitive interaction gives the coach an opportunity to offer clarification. Second, through active listening you let the client know that you acknowledge, respect and accept his or her feelings. Third, active listening stimulates the client to explore feelings, insecurities, self-doubt, conflict, discouragement and thoughts. From a Christian coaching position careful, focused intuitive listening is the best way to show support and build the coaching relationship.
From a Christian coaching perspective we can model our listening skills from the one who knows us best. As we observe, and embody Jesus, we perceive how He recognized the most effective way to minister to people was by listening. As perceptive as He was He did not believe everything He heard because He was a discerning and attentive listener.
So based on our own observations what can we, as Christian coaches, learn from the listening skills of Jesus?
Jesus was willing to listen without interrupting the speaker
Jesus learned to spend solitary time alone with his Father where He listened; “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went to a solitary place, where He prayed” (Mark 1:35). If we, as Christian coaches will spend time alone with God in a posture of listening, it will become easier for us to deeply listen to other people as well.
Jesus was willing to understand another person’s perspective
Jesus always asked penetrating and probing questions which prompted the individual to stop and ponder upon their innermost thoughts and priorities. Jesus presented thought provoking questions which could not be answered by a simple “yes” or “no” response. His were questions discerningly asked during the conversation with the full intention to explore the depth of the person’s thoughts.
Thought provoking questions.
Throughout His ministry our Lord demonstrated how he was genuinely interested in learning about people’s concerns, their values, and personal spiritual condition. He always knew the conclusive answers to His questions but He coached the person into answering those questions themselves. After resurrecting from the dead, Jesus approached two men walking along the road to Emmaus where He approached them and asked, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” ( Luke 24:17) encouraging them to reveal their innermost thoughts and feelings. Jesus knew both what they already knew and what they did not know. They stood still, their faces downcast. Then Cleopas asked the Lord, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
Jesus responded, “What things?” (Luke 24:17-20).
The interesting concept here is how Jesus knew when to ask inquisitive questions that allowed Him to find out what was deeply important to the people He met. He already knew their present condition but did they know their personal proviso?
The concept for us to learn here reveals to us if we want to be a good listener we must learn to ask the “what, why, when, where, and how“ type questions that allows an individual the opportunity to explain their inner most thoughts and feelings from their level of understanding. This is a communication technique referred to as “The 5 Whys?” As Jesus demonstrated on the Emmaus Road the 5 Whys is a simple problem-solving technique that helps us get to the root of a problem quickly.
By being mentored by Jesus we recognize how the Lord listened to people’s emotions, ideas, and innuendos. By giving people his undivided attention Jesus was able to listen in a manner that helped him bond to, and identify with, the person’s greatest need. His questions were empathetic without passing judgment.
In the story of the Samaritan woman at the well Jesus was able to put away negative feelings, grudges, hurts, or misunderstandings to really hear what she was saying. He knew her story, but did she understand herself?
Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (John 4:7).
Then the Samaritan woman at the well said to Jesus, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” Jesus had something she needed greater than water. He offered her living water. But more importantly the Lord was willing to overlook deeply embedded cultural values (and differences) for the sake of helping her discover real truth for her life and receive living water.
Jesus did not listen to people to find something to criticize
The Lord was good at listening to people with His eyes, ears, entire soul and being. Jesus took time to show people how important they were to Him by giving to them his undivided attention. Yet, Jesus not only listened for the words, he recognized the sense of urgency in the tone of people’s voices. What a beautiful imagery of God, coaching and comforting Jesus with rod and staff, walking beside Him in his valley of darkness. His Father was preparing Him for a future in the presence of His enemies.
Would all of us desire to emulate a coach like that.
Yet, there are obstacles which will obstruct our ability to listen like Jesus. As coaches we are to be sensitive listeners with an ability to focus, uninterrupted, on our clients, yet we allow ourselves to think about the next question, becoming tired or preoccupied with our own problems or forthcoming schedule. Being a good listener occurs when we are able to listen, pause, and consider what the client has said, but also when we can repeat it back accurately to the client. Reflexive listening is being patient waiting for an opportunity to insert our penetrating questions into the conversation.
As we reflect on the listening skills of Jesus, we realize He was a man of few words. When he met a person on the street, he asked, “What would you like for me to do for you today?”
And then he would intently listen.
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