To be an effective coach, you’ve got to be a good listener, right? You know – suspending your own assumptions and beliefs, sustaining a quiet receptivity, refraining from interrupting, and offering a sympathetic ear and a compassionate presence.

According to Roffey Park coaching expert Ana Karakusevic, if that’s what you believe, you’re probably not ready to be a coach. For Karakusevic, listening in coaching requires more than being silent, more than not interrupting another person’s monologue, and it certainly requires a willingness to disrupt the status quo.

Listening in coaching is a far more active process, and it involves listening to your own responses – your thoughts and feelings. We don’t simply describe “reality” when we talk; we construct it – we share our take on what’s out there (or in here). Our constructs are open to redescription.

The danger with maintaining an unwavering stance of unconditional positive regard is that we can end up cementing entrenched constructs even more firmly into place. When coaching, we might begin with unconditional positive regard and quiet receptivity, but this is the prelude to a kind of dance or dialogue in which new thoughts, new perspectives and new insights can be co-created.

In personal therapy, if I was to keep butting in or convey that I think a line of thinking needed to be shaken up, I might be at risk of bulldozing a client in my preferred direction. As a coach, where the client-professional relationship is different, I have an ethical obligation to offer different constructions to the one the client seems “stuck” with.

In this context, listening involves what the great British psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott might have called “playing” – a reciprocal activity in which new ideas are co-fashioned out of old ones.

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