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3 Stages to the Art of Listening: The Amazing Power of Deep Listening

Don’t you hate it when people don’t listen? Deep listening is Stage 3 of the Art of Listening and this is how you can develop deep listening skills.“Listening is being able to be changed by the other person.” ~ Alan Alda

As Linda poured out her feelings during a recent session, she stopped and looked at me expectantly. “Aren’t you going to tell me what you think or tell me how to fix my problem? After all, that’s what everyone else does, when I try to tell how I feel.” I told her, “Number one…I don’t believe you need to be “fixed”. My job is to employ the art of listening so I can help you reflect on your feelings and find their meaning for yourself.”

Her experience illustrates how we fall into the trap of thinking about what we’re going to say next, rather than really give our full attention to what the other person is saying. It’s natural to relate what you’re hearing to your own experiences, however, this can lead to jumping to inaccurate conclusions. It’s important to make a deliberate and mindful effort to understand the other side.

Understanding is not the same as agreeing. You may feel resistance because you don’t agree with what is being said. Understanding their point of view is the only way you’ll be able to connect deeply and help them. Being a good listener gives you extra time to gather information so your response is on target and helpful.

Perhaps, as a coach, you have a fixed agenda for the session, so you feel you should keep pulling the person back to the program you’ve outlined. But what if you allowed the session to be led by what you’re actually hearing? It would take your conversation to much deeper and most likely, more transformational levels.

I get it. It can be scary to veer off into uncharted waters. You may feel inadequate and unprepared to handle whatever comes up. The thing is….you don’t have to “handle it”. Your role as coach is to witness it, reflect it back to your client, and help her dig into its meaning for herself. When you employ deep listening, you can allow the conversation to go where the client needs, without fear. 

Here are some indicators to determine at which stage of listening you generally function at. Keep in mind what Stephen R. Covey said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

Three Stages to the Art of Listening. Coaches — Strive for Deep Listening!

Stage 1: Listen to Respond

  • Your primary focus is on your own thoughts, judgments, opinions and feelings.
  • You relate what you hear to your own experience.
  • The conversation is fairly superficial and you’re easily distracted.

Stage 2 Listen to Understand

  • You focus on the speaker, refusing to be distracted by anything else (other conversations, another person entering the room, etc.)
  • You don’t interrupt them or finish their sentences for them.
  • You don’t feel that you have to respond right away, but rather you note the essence of their thoughts and come back to it when appropriate.
  • You notice what’s said and not being said.
  • You listen from the perspective of the client, her situation and her view of the world.
  • You become an Observer so you perceive the tone of voice, body language and facial expressions.
  • You can summarize in their words (tune into their key words or phrases, not paraphrasing from your own thoughts) what you’ve heard – without interpreting it or twisting it to your own point of view.
  • You can reflect what the speaker is saying back to them.
  • You welcome the Silence, not trying to fill dead air.

Stage 3 Listen to Support

  • You employ all of Stage 2 listening skills, without judgment.
  • Your deep awareness makes you open to whatever is said.
  • You listen with utmost respect, interest and curiosity.
  • You give complete, compassionate, supportive and warm attention.
  • Your intuition helps you deepen the conversation by saying, “I understand you’re feeling _____, but I sense that there’s something else…” This invites them to go deeper.

The art of listening takes time to develop, but it can be practiced daily. Nancy Kline, author of Time to Think: Listening to Ignite, said about deep listening that it “ignites the human mind. The quality of your attention determines the quality of other people’s thinking.” That’s powerful!

At the heart of coaching is the belief that individuals have within themselves the knowledge and ability to find their own way towards improvement. You don’t need to be perfect or “right” or to correct them. It’s your role to stimulate your client’s own knowledge, rather than to ‘instruct’ her. 

Remember to be patient with yourself, and them, as you practice deep listening. Even if it’s a struggle at first, it will become second nature in time. It takes physical and mental effort to function at Stage 3 of the Art of Listening. Don’t be surprised if you feel tired after a session! 

Coaching begins long before the client shows up for their appointment. It begins with improving your own mindful self-awareness of what is happening inside of you (internal dialogue, insecurities, assumptions, resistance, distraction, laziness/boredom, selective hearing) when you are listening to others. When you practice embodiment, you value, motivate, and bring out the best in yourself and the people around you, which can leave a lasting impact. If you’d like to explore this further, download my free report, 10 Steps to an Embodied Practice

Thank you for the photo Christina @

intimacy, Personal Growth - Professional Growth, Self-Confidence

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