Coaches’ Listening Skills

Having an opportunity recently to coach coaches renewed my understanding of the need to slow down and listen effectively as a coach. I believe that often a coach’s desire to be “helpful” has one looking for a solution or an improvement to move toward and thus missing hearing things that are important to the coachee. This can create an understanding gap. Following the teacher’s thinking can increase the teacher’s reflection and vulnerability leading to insight and growth.

I am currently reading The Leader’s Guide to Coaching in Schools,  by John Campbell and Christian van Nieuwerburgh. They describe eight key coaching skills; three of which I think closely connect to listening skills.

  • Being Present “There are few greater gifts we can give another person these days than being present.” Giving full and focused attention is a powerful way to build trust.
  • Listening Actively – “Listening at a level that really hears not only words but also emotions is enormously affirming, generating insights and self-understanding.” Listening in coaching isn’t a request for more information but rather enabling the teacher to listen to herself.
  • Clarifying – “Clarifying consists of confirming that the coach has heard and understood what the coachee has said and intended.” The coachee should gain greater clarity herself from the coach’s clarifying process.

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In training for coaches, I often combine an examination of questioning skills with conscious practice of confirmatory paraphrasing. The following material is from the PLS3rdLearning program, Building Communication and Teamwork.

The Confirmatory Paraphrase is a statement rather than a question. After paraphrasing facts, feelings or thoughts, the teacher will usually confirm whether your guess is on target by answering “yes” or “no.”   Our goal with Confirmatory Paraphrases is to get a “yes” response, indicating that our guess is accurate. A “no” response indicates that the interpretation was off and the teacher can add new information to produce understanding. Note that making your tone of voice go up at the end of a statement makes it sound like a question. The Confirmatory Paraphrase is not a question; it’s a confirmation… a statement.

Confirmatory Paraphrases that can clarify…

  • Facts – what happened (details of event/experience)
  • Feelings – emotions expressed verbally or nonverbally through tone of voice facial expression and body language
  • Opinions – views and beliefs

There are three steps to forming a Confirmatory Paraphrase:

  1. Listen and observe carefully.
  2. Decide whether to describe a fact, feeling, or opinion.
  3. State your guess by describing your observation

Here are a few introductory phrases to guide you when you create a Confirmatory Paraphrase.

Fact:      The problem is . . .

It was . . .

The fact is . . .

You don’t know . . .

You don’t have . . .

What happened was . . .

You are finding that . . .

Feeling:   (blanks would contain an emotion word)

It sounds like you are . . .

You seem . . .

You feel . . .

You look . . .

I hear _____ in your voice.

I see that you are . . .

Opinion:  You think that . . .

You believe that . . .

It sounds like you are convinced that . . .

Your point is . . .

You are telling me that . . .

I hear you saying that . . .

The suggestion is . . .

So, your view is that . . .

You want to . . . / You don’t want to . . .

You wish it were . . .

You hope to . . .

You would like to . . .

“Some people listen to understand, while some listen to respond.”

—Anonymous

Example:

Teacher: It’s frustrating to put so much time into planning a lesson and then not have it go well.

Possible Coach Confirmatory paraphrases:

Facts:

You spent a lot of time preparing the lesson.

The students didn’t respond the way you expected.

Feelings:

You are disappointed with the outcome.

You are worried about how to proceed.

Opinions:

You think your planning time was wasted.

You believe you need a different approach to planning.

I find that increasing confirmatory paraphrases and asking fewer (especially closed-ended) questions in coaching settings increases the sense of conversation. Paraphrases invite a response while questions require a response. During the conversation of a conference the coachee tends to add more information and do more reflection, leading to understanding one’s own thinking more clearly.

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2 Responses to “ Coaches’ Listening Skills ”

  1. Janice Bradley Says:

    Another wise and insightful post, Steve. Much appreciation for sharing concrete ways of thinking and actions that can be immediately practiced in a lived context.

  2. Ronni Reed Says:

    Thank you again Steve for reminding us how important it is when working with others to affirm what they are thinking and feeling. As you stated, it is so easy to fall into the role of fixing and suggesting. The real goal is to have those we coach reflect and find solutions for themselves.

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Steve Barkley

For the past 35 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…