Tools for Coaching Mastery

How the
FOE Index can help us achieve Mastery #3 – Engaged Listening

by Aileen

One of the greatest gifts that we as coaches give to our clients is the gift
of engaged listening. Few people experience truly great listening in their normal
day-to-day activities and yet we all yearn to be truly heard. As coaches, we
are privileged to create a place for people to be heard, and where they can
hear the answers and potential that lie within them. In order to listen well
to our client, we have to first listen well to ourselves, constantly being aware
of our own voices and consciously choosing what we hear in ourselves and in
our clients.

To prepare for coaching, the coach listens to her or his own heart and head.
She or he takes steps to quiet all distractions, to clear all personal thoughts
and feelings and to clear her or his energetic field so that she or he is fully
focussed on the client.

Checking your FOE index (introduced to me by CFM Consulting, Scotland) is one
way to do this, and involves three questions: How FOCUSSED am I for this coaching
conversation? How OPEN am I to whatever emerges? And, do I have the ENERGY needed
for a great coaching session? A low response to any of these requires the coach
to step back and take time to become more fully prepared to do engaged listening.

is a technique a coach can use to reach that fully focussed, open and
energised state for coaching. Using a visualisation of a suitcase,
acknowledge everything that's in your own head, heart and energy field
(e.g., what to make for dinner, the argument you had with your teenage
daughter that morning, the nagging ache in your back from gardening on
the weekend–yes, you’re human too). Visualise putting all those
distraction in an open suitcase, closing the lid and locking it.
Everything will be waiting for you to come back to after you’ve
effectively served your client with a great coaching session.

Becoming fully present is crucial to engaged listening. The Buddhist monk Thich
Nat Hahn offers another wonderful exercise for settling into our listening space
as coaches. He suggests three breaths–the first to let go of whatever
we may be holding; the second to touch our still mind and become fully present;
and the third breath to ask what now wants to come into the space. This is a
wonderful exercise to use in preparation for coaching, and I also use it during
a coaching conversation. It is particularly useful when a client reaches a significant
or potentially challenging emotional point in the conversation.

Being fully engaged in a coaching conversation requires that as a coach you
listen on multiple levels and become skilled in knowing which level you’re
listening on at each point in the conversation. One of my colleagues compares
this to the Windows operating system on our computers. Our listening brain becomes
a series of windows or files that we open, close, store and retrieve constantly
during a coaching conversation:

  • We have a process file that we check regularly to see where we are in the
    process of the conversation;
  • We have a content file where we store parts of the client’s story
    and which we may save temporarily, re-open, and link to other parts of their
    story to help them make sense of it;
  • We have our personal file which needs to be blocked to prevent things from
    our own story popping up and interfering with our listening;
  • We have our timekeeping file which enables us to manage the time available
    for the conversation in a way that’s not obvious to the client;
  • We have an instant messaging file which highlights repeated words or statements
    emerging in the client’s conversation and which we add to as these turn
    into habitual language or patterns which we then reflect back to the client;
  • We have a questions file where we access powerful questioning techniques
    to move our client forward with their goals; and
  • We have an intuitive file which alerts us like an RSS blog feed to signals,
    emotions, energies, disturbances or signs of excitement which suggest our
    client has reached a vital learning or transformation point.

We also have one ear open to the outer world while we are coaching, alert to
what’s going on in the environment around us and our client and taking
appropriate action to optimise or negate anything external which affects the
focus of the conversation.

For a coach, listening well is a lifetime commitment. It’s not something
you turn on when you’re coaching; it’s something you practice constantly.
Like athletes, we must keep our listening muscles fully toned and in top form
by exercising them in each and every conversation; particularly the ones we
find more challenging, because that’s where we can stretch our listening
capacity and become even more accomplished.

Aileen Gibb is founder and lead coach with IC International, a company dedicated
to inspiring a better future in life and work. Her current focus is to attract
12 courageous leaders each year to participate in an inspirational coaching
journey to transform their life, work and leadership. Her new website
is coming soon. In the meantime she can be contacted at

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