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How to listen with your ears, heart and your mind. Part 1

We all think we're good listeners. Are we though? I thought I was until I was completing my coaching training. I realised I was listening to respond, often thinking about a solution or thinking about what question to ask next. I wasn't aware of the different layers of listening.

A study of over 8,000 people employed in businesses, hospitals, universities, the military and government agencies found that virtually all of the respondents believed that they communicate as effectively or more effectively than their co-workers.1 (Could everyone be above average?) However, research shows that the average person listens at only about 25% efficiency.2 While most people agree that listening effectively is a very important skill, most people don't feel a strong need to improve their own skill level.3


A common mistake when 'listening' is dismissing what the other person has said.

'I'm cold'

'No, you're not.'

This response has the potential to induce rage in me. Don't tell me how to feel!

No one likes their thoughts, feeling and opinions dismissed. As a coach, our role is to support, guide and challenge.


A. 'I feel so fat'.

B. 'Don't be silly, you look great!'

Acknowledge and validate:

'It sounds like you're not feeling too good about yourself. What is it about today that's bringing this up for you? How would you like to feel?'

In the first exchange, person B thinks they are being nice by boosting person As confidence. What they are actually doing is dismissing how person A feels. It may boost person A for 5 minutes but then they are left still feeling the same way.

In the second exchange person B acknowledges what person A has said. Person A feels heard and understood.

Validating statements:

  1. It sounds as though you’re feeling…

  2. What I hear you saying is…

  3. You would like me to understand that you’re feeling _______ because ____________ and you wish ….

  4. It makes sense that you feel…

  5. It makes sense that you think

  6. What you are thinking/feeling is normal.

Validating does not mean you are agreeing with everything your coachee is saying. Instead, you are showing that you are listening carefully and hearing what they are thinking and feeling from their perspective.

Next time you're having a chat, coaching or mentoring someone, be mindful of whether you are dismissing the other person's feelings or are you acknowledging and validating their feelings?

Come to think of it, listen to your inner voice too. Are you dismissing your own feelings? How do you listen to yourself? Do you tell yourself

  • I don't have the right to feel this way.

  • Other people have it worse than me.

  • I'm just being stupid.

Maybe it's time to show yourself some self-compassion by truly acknowledging your thoughts and feelings?

Listening is the most important skill you can have as a leader, friend, partner and a human being. #humanityinleadership

If you'd like to know more about how to develop your listening skills, why not join the next Essential Coaching Skills for School Leaders course starting 7th November.

Book your place now!

Mal is a Leadership consultant, coach and trainer.

Notes 1. Haney, W. V. (1979). Communication and interpersonal relations. Homewood, IL: Irwin. 2. Husman, R. C., Lahiff, J. M., & Penrose, J. M. (1988). Business communication: Strategies and skills. Chicago: Dryden Press. 3. Spitzberg, B. H. (1994). The dark side of (in)competence. In W.R. Cupach & B. H. Spitzberg (Eds.), The dark side of interpersonal communication. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

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