“When a quality listener listens, they listen to people and believe in others completely. They encourage and support others in being the best they can be, just in how they listen, without saying a word.” David Rock
While the two previous articles in this series have offered a “sneak peek” from our second book into lessons we have learned about listening such as moving from “listening to” to “listening for” and the power of reframing negative to positive, problem to solution, and complaint to commitment, this article will focus on our most recent learning about “listening for”.
In our quest to be the best coaches we can be, we dedicated our professional learning this year to the re-examination of the core competencies under the guidance of our mentor coach, Dr. Francine Campone, MCC (Master Certified Coach). In our study of the competency of active listening, we added four new “Listen Fors” to our growing list.
- Limiting beliefs
Story. Active listening puts us in a place to “listen for” the person’s story. It’s not fact; it’s the truth as they see it. They might be a victim, a hero, a martyr, etc. For example, when a coach heard a person say, “I see myself as her protector,” the coach used the story later in the conversation to ask, “How is your message protecting her?”
Not only do we get impressions of how the person sees himself; we get information about how they position themselves with regard to others. For example, when someone is complaining about another person, listening for the character they are taking in the story can be manifested in a question such as, “What character are you in this story?” Another strategy for moving a person from the details of a story is to shift the focus onto the effect or the impact of an event rather than the he said/she said from the event.
Metaphor. Because language is so important, by listening for the metaphors used by the person, a committed listener may gain insight into the speaker’s thinking and feeling. For example, when a person says, “I’ve reached a turning point.” our committed listening hears this as significant. It informs our paraphrase and possibly a follow up question. We might say, “Something has happened–a turning point—and you see it. What exactly do you mean turning point?” or “What are you turning from . . . to?” The person is finding meaning through the use of metaphor, either implicitly or explicitly. When we listen for and “lift up” these nuances, we open the door for deeper meaning by gaining clarity of the language for the person. We remember the strong metaphors that they use and see the possibility for how it may open the door as a pathway to what they want.
Metaphors may show up in different forms such as the following:
- Color metaphors – “I’m feeling like I’m in the pink.”
- Architectural metaphors – “I feel like I’ve hit a brick wall.” Or “I want us to build a stronger organization.”
- Dimension metaphors – “I’m feeling like I am getting smaller.”
Contradiction. As coaches, we also “listen for” consistencies and inconsistencies in the story, in the metaphor, or in the language or emotion of the person. One example is someone who is “telling and re-telling a story” about an evaluation that was less than stellar and the words to you are, “I’m okay.” Clearly, they are not. Holding up this contradiction is our work as a coach. “Your words say you are okay and yet you keep telling me the same story as if it is not okay. What do you want to say about that?” Another example is a person in the position of being a leader who continues to put themselves in the victim mode in the story. Holding up the contradiction might sound like, “You are a leader who has enjoyed success in this arena before. Now, your words seem to release your power as a leader—even to give it away to others. How do you want to reconcile this difference?”
Limiting Beliefs. We learn about the potentially negative impact of limiting beliefs through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Within cognitive psychology, a schema is an abstract plan that guides an individual’s thinking and responses. In coaching, a schema is a broad mental guideline for interpreting a situation and how to respond to the situation. Schemas lead to sets of behaviors that are coping styles, which may or may not be productive. We observe limiting beliefs as behavior patterns and language patterns in others. We listen for language or descriptions of behaviors that indicate schemas which lead to helpful or unhelpful coping strategies.
Limiting beliefs show up in language people use to describe themselves. “I’m a klutz!” Or, as we have heard in our seminars, “I’m a real jerk (or worse).” David Rock reports that the amount of self-criticism, when tallied in hours is remarkable, ranging from 500 hours a year to as high as over 2,000 hours a year. It also shows up in the way people view their world. “I’ll never be able to get that job.” Or, “This child is the type that you can never really reach.”
A Reframe Story. Recently, a school Principal lost her right-hand assistant principal to another school. This was a re-assignment from the central office that broke the strong bond she had in her administrative team. She felt trust had been violated, and the words she kept repeating throughout the conversation were, “It’s hard. It’s just so hard.” The coach listened to this story and the language being used. The who, what, when, and how of the story was placing a usually confident leader into the victim mode. She had given her power away.
After at least three repetitions, the coach said, “Your strength as a leader is evident every day as you work to move this school to new levels of performance. Here is an obstacle that is very hard to comprehend. Knowing that what you say repeatedly is a message to your brain, how might tweaking the message to your brain from “It’s hard. It’s so hard.” to “It’s hard. It’s so hard AND I can do it!” influence your results? At the conclusion of this conversation, the principal indicated that the most valuable part of the conversation was when the coach held up this contradiction in the situation. She said, “You helped me move out of my negativity back into my power as a leader.” This was a cognitive shift for her and changed the course of her actions. She took her power back, held a fierce conversation with central office, and is currently celebrating a new position in another system.
As you consider the possibilities of this 2nd Dimension of “listening for”,
what aspect do you want to “listen for”?