- Posted by Liz Gooster
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- active listening, business coaching, coaching practice, listening, silence
As most people who know me would probably agree, I’m not exactly a shrinking violet. I’m very fond of a bit of vocal exercise. Embarking on my business coaching training programme with Meyler Campbell, this trait of talking a lot was a big source of anxiety for me. Kind friends have told me I’m a good listener and I’ve noticed that people tend to confide in me. But the concern loomed large: would I be able to shut up long enough to listen to anyone else?
With the emphasis in my early reading and tutorials firmly on the critical importance of focused listening, my worry crystallised into a small hard knot of trepidation. In principle I was a convert to the precepts of coaching: it all made perfect sense. The thinking behind it chimed with my personal belief system, the evidence of its effectiveness was convincing. Actually doing it though – that was a different matter. What would I do? Would it work? How would I know what to say? How would I be able to keep quiet enough for my clients to think, reflect and draw on their inner resources?
Now a veteran of eight practice coaching sessions, I can reflect with a certain sense of pride on my listening capabilities. There’s still a lot to learn, absorb and practice. But I do now have a sense of coaching as something I will genuinely be able to do. The textbook learning is great and has given me some real insights into the power and creativity of the human mind. I’ve always been academically minded, so I would have been surprised if this had presented me with any real problems. With real life coaching, on the other hand, I was facing a brand new challenge. I wasn’t at all sure how I would fare in terms of actively focusing on another person, listening carefully, refraining from making comments and suggestions. In short, was I temperamentally cut out to be a coach?
I’ve been pleasantly taken aback by how my practice sessions have gone. With a lack of faith in my ability to keep quiet being my number one concern, it has been gratifying to learn that the listening and silence I’ve been able to bring to sessions have met with positive feedback. What’s more, I’ve been thrilled to discover that I don’t find this aspect of coaching as difficult as I’d feared. I’ve sometimes had to remind myself to think differently, to remember that a coaching session is not an ordinary conversation, but giving the client room to think has so far not been too much of a problem. Chatting with friends and colleagues, I’m talkative, animated and opinionated. In a coaching situation, I’m at peace with putting my own tales and concerns on hold. I find other people fascinating, so it’s a privilege that my practice clients are prepared to share their issues and thoughts with me so openly.
Of course, I’m far from perfect in judging just the right length of quiet time and how long to let a client wander off the point before interrupting to bring back the focus. Yet the highlight of my training so far has been the feedback on my tutorial coaching from Peter. He remarked on ‘the great quality of silence’ in my practice session with Julia. This comment made me glow with the possibilities it opened up and has stayed with me as a reminder of the power of silence.
 All names in this post have been changed.
I like to describe myself as happily ‘At Large’ in an independent portfolio career, balancing executive coaching, maternity coaching, leadership development and coach training. Other interests include travel writing, literature, fitness, food and drink. Connect with me on Twitter @lizgooster.