Tools for Coaching Mastery

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The Three V’s of Listening
by Aileen Gibb

If there is one IAC mastery that, when done ineptly, has the potential to compromise
the power of our coaching more than any other, it is Mastery #3 – Engaged
Listening. As coaches, we cannot come back often enough to our own development
as listeners, recognizing that it is a lifelong journey and a mastery that commands
continual focus, reinforcement and subtle upgrading along the way.

My colleague Gary Diggins works with sound therapy, and from his work I’ve
learned a lot about the subtlety and refinements of listening. As a musician
and master listener, he recognizes three V’s of listening, which apply
equally to coaches. The three V’s are:

  1. Verbal listening – to the words being said and the
    content of the client’s conversation.
  2. Vocal listening – to the tone and volume of what’s
    being said.
  3. Vibrational listening – to the energy, emotion, expression
    and bodily signals accompanying what is being said.

These three V’s of listening must be applied first to yourself as coach.

Are you conscious of the words you are using in your questions? Are those words
making sense to, and connecting with, your client? Are your words positive,
upbeat, full of possibility and future focused? What verbal habits may have
crept into your coaching that you need to be aware of and adapt to better effect
for your client? If you haven’t done so for a while, you may wish to record
some of your coaching conversations, or have a mentor coach listen to your coaching,
to identify any subtle upgrades to refine your verbal listening.

Especially when coaching by phone, vocal listening is key.
Do you find yourself talking louder, more slowly or more quietly when you are
coaching on the phone? Do you sense when your client is reacting to your tone
or volume? Sometimes the phone can make us sound a little more monotone than
when we are face-to-face with a client. Being aware of your tone of voice, and
then flexibly modulating both tone and volume to match the pace and vocality
of your client, builds both connection and confidence in the conversation.

Vibrational listening calls on you as a coach to pay close
attention to the energy you are taking into the coaching conversation. Very
often, as coach, you are providing an anchor for your client’s important
conversation. Your energy needs to be solid, grounded, clear and neutral, with
a high awareness of your own emotional attachments. It is incumbent upon us
as coaches to have regular habits for clearing, grounding and adjusting our
own energy, and being aware of how it impacts our clients.

Recognising three V’s in yourself means you can attend to them more clearly
for your client and develop your mastery as a listener.

Listening for verbal patterns in your client’s language
facilitates you asking questions that build on key words they use. Your question
becomes a very strong reflection of your client’s own voice and helps
them hear themselves more clearly.

Noticing any changes or shifts in the tone or volume of your
client’s voice enables you to hear beyond the actual words they are using;
you can pick up on what is not being said or what is causing some underlying
tension or anxiety, and illuminate key points in the conversation which your
client may need you to help them address.

The most powerful moments of vibrational listening can be
when you hear extreme highs or lows in your client’s energy. Are you being
called on to match that energy, or will your client benefit from you using an
opposite and balancing energy to help them move to a different perspective?
When your client is highly emotional, for example, you are often called on to
hold a very calm vibration, giving your client time to work through the emotion
and come back to a place where they can hear a question or choose a helpful
course of action.

The art of mastering engaged listening reminds me how much work any Olympic
athlete has to do to prepare for their medal event. If we want our clients to
achieve gold from their coaching conversation, we as coaches need to continually
practice, refine and upgrade our listening. Here are a few ideas for developing
a regular listening practice routine and putting yourself on course for gold:

  1. Choose the audio version of the next book you want to read. Notice how you
    focus on listening to the story instead of reading it visually. What do you
    notice? What patterns in the author’s language do you hear? Can you
    listen well enough to repeat back sentences or even paragraphs of what you
  2. Practice a daily silence ritual (anything from 10 minutes to 30 minutes)
    noticing what you come to hear that you might previously have missed. Compare
    what’s different when you do a silence practice indoors or outdoors.
    What do you come to hear that’s new to you? What do you hear in yourself
    as you sit in the silence?
  3. Choose a musical instrument and play it—whether you’re an expert
    or not. Listen for the different tones you can hear—you should hear
    several layers. Also notice the vibration of the instrument and which parts
    of your body are “hearing” it.
  4. Listen to the news or a television documentary with complete focus and your
    full attention (don’t be eating dinner or knitting at the same time).
    What do you hear beyond the words that are being said? What’s the back
    story that might not be being verbalized? What reactions, assumptions or judgments
    come up in you as you listen? What questions would you want to ask if you
    were coaching that person in real life?
  5. Introduce a minute of silence at the start of any conversation or meeting.
    Use this time for yourself and your client or meeting participants to pause,
    take a breath and listen for what is ready to be heard.

IAC Mastery #3 requires us to be constantly striving for the gold in our listening.
With practice and mastery, your clients will soon be climbing the podium.

Aileen Gibb  

Aileen Gibb and Gary Diggins combine music and mastery in their workshops with
clients around the globe. Their Destination Coach and Destination Leader workshops
equip leaders at all levels in business to create inspired work environments
for the future. Full details and dates can be found at

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