Listening to audios of coaches, coaching and also teaching and mentoring around the ICF Core Competencies, I’ve noticed how often an assumption is made in terms of what is being said and what is being heard.

How often do we hear what someone says and assume what they mean? Have you noticed yourself in a conversation, be it a coaching conversation or just with friends, when you feel you may be talking at cross purposes, or even that you or the other person may have accidentally ‘hi-jacked’ the conversation due to misunderstanding? When that happens, it could mean you or the other person have assumed a meaning about a word or a “something”. Imagine how this might happen even more when talking with people from different cultures and where your first language is not the same? George Bernard Shaw was attributed with the saying that: “England and America are two countries divided by a common language!”

That’s where the joy of the Active Listening (ICF Core Competency 5) can support us and can impact our ability to play into and use the competency of Direct Communication (ICF Core Competency 7) effectively. Active Listening is not just about listening or hearing the words, it’s about understanding what the words mean and even what lies between the words—both of which means we need to clarify, not assume.

If you look at the definition of “to assume”, two meanings are offered:

  1. Something that is accepted as proof or as certain—without proof
  2. The action of taking on power or responsibility

The second definition has, for me, an interesting consideration for coaches. By making an assumption, we potentially take on or take away the power or responsibility from our client/coachee.

If we look at how the ICF’s PCC markers support us to observe when the Active Listening competency is being evidenced, there are two key words in most of the markers. The words are inquires and explores. By inquiring we gain an understanding of what the person is actually saying and meaning and, by exploring their meaning, we get to learn a bit more about who the person is and how they think and feel.

This provides the opportunity to have a deeper and more insightful conversation that may well allow infinitely better questions and evoke more impactful comments and observations to aid the forward movement of our client or indeed our colleagues.

So, what about the Owl?

If you sit at the feet of the wise man, it means that as a coach or indeed simply as a partner in conversation, we believe that the other person can teach us more than we can teach them. Maybe then, we are the owl. If we believe we are the wise man, perhaps we are simply the Ass!

What will you do to stay sitting at the feet of the wise man?

Happy listening.

Hilary Oliver, MCC

Hilary Oliver is a Master Certified Coach (MCC) with the International Coaching Federation (ICF). She is also a trained Coaching Supervisor and Mentor Coach. Hilary trains coaches and works with managers and leaders to develop their coaching capability. She works as an International Corporate Executive and Board Level Coach, a leadership development designer and facilitator working with a wide range of organisations. Hilary also specialises in working with organisations to support them develop coaching culture. She has been the President of the UK ICF Chapter and is a Past Chair of the ICF Global Board.

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