The world as we know it is being shaken up. Things are changing, and we’re bringing new eyes to old problems, from large scale racial and societal injustices to our relationships with loved ones and ourselves.
We’re all at different stages in this journey and we’re all processing the current issues differently. One important thing we’ve learned from our years as health coaches is that when people raise their voices, it’s often because they’re struggling to be heard. They need someone to listen, to show them and the world that what they’re saying matters.
One of the superpowers of a health coach is that we meet people where they are—and this is a skill that can come in handy outside the formal coaching relationship. We know how to give others a listening ear when they need it, without judgment. To simply be with them in the place they are, wherever that is, offering the support they need to move forward goes a long way. Those listening, combined with our ability to co-create action plans that set people up for success when they’re ready to act, have the strong ability to help people.
We can’t help but see the application of those skills to this moment our world is currently.
Are You a Good Listener?
LISTENING is underrated and under-practiced part of human connection. Listening is how we learn from others, whether they’re a close friend or a stranger. It’s a portal to understanding the lives and needs of others by making them feel seen and heard. Listening is much more than simply hearing; it’s participating in a mutual, trust-building interaction while staying mostly silent. And if you do it right, the outcome can include things as valuable as improved communication and compassion.
6 Tips to Being a Good Listener:
- Be fully present to the current moment. Focus on the person who’s speaking and let them say their piece without interrupting.
- Use body language, eye contact, and thoughtful follow-up questions to show you’re engaged.
- Show respect for the person you’re listening to, even if you disagree with them.
- Listen simply to understand. Focusing on what you’re going to say next can take you out of the moment—try to quiet your mind and absorb what they’re saying.
- Don’t assume they’re looking for advice or for you to “fix” something. Often, people share because they want to bond, feel understood, or process verbally, not be told how to handle a situation. Sometimes, listening itself is enough, and you don’t need to respond at all.
- Encourage the speaker and make sure you understand by asking clarifying questions and summarizing what you hear.
One aspect of being a good listener that can be a challenge for many of us is PATIENTIENCE. The good news is that listening is a practice: by practicing and striving to be a better listener, we can become more focused on conversations, build stronger relationships, and process information better.
Listening to Create Change with the Coach Approach
A lot of us are asking ourselves how to have effective conversations with family and friends who don’t share our views—especially when we feel emotionally-charged about the topic.
One of the foundations of effective coaching dialogue (or any dialogue, really) is understanding: showing each other that we’re listening actively and we want to see from their point of view, even if we don’t agree with it. As health coaches, we apply this approach with our clients all the time. It’s often called REFLECTIVE LISTENING.
You probably use some reflective listening strategies already, as a natural part of conversing. These include: asking followup questions, clarifying, meeting the speaker with empathy, and showing your desire to fully and deeply understand them. This approach not only increases your ability to understand their point of view (which is important in emotional conversations), but it actually makes the speaker feel seen and heard and establishes the trust required for real change to take place.
This isn’t just “touchy-feely” stuff, it’s actually science-based. A 2018 study in Sage Journal found that taking time to listen in an empathetic way has a positive impact on speakers AND that listeners walk away with a deeper understanding of the situation, not just a one-sided view.
So, when you listen to others—and especially if you’re listening out of a desire to create change—remember the power of making someone feel understood. Make a conscious effort to put a pause on distracting thought patterns like “But someone else told me…” or “For me, it’s not the case…” or even “I know that’s wrong.” You might be totally right! But when you make someone feel understood, they’re more likely to take the time to truly listen to and understand you, too.
That’s the place where change can happen. And you can help.
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