The ability to listen and truly hear what a client has to say is arguably the most valuable skill any business coach can have.
But good listening isn’t just the art of taking an interest, it involves clarifying information, deciphering the important from the extraneous, and getting down to the nitty gritty of what a business owner needs from you.
Here are five tips for effective listening when it comes to business coaching.
Let them speak
Business coaching is a unique trade. It relies on getting a handle on an operation and its workings quickly with a view to improving a situation.
To do that you need to first hear what a business owner has to say. While there will be a number of pertinent questions a coach needs to ask, and answers a business proprietor needs to provide, the initial discovery process is not a quick fire Q&A, it’s about allowing a business owner to speak, and the best way to facilitate this is though open-ended questions.
Simple queries like: “Tell me about your business?” and: “What do you feel are the major challenges for your business?” allow the business owner to describe them self and their operation, giving you a feel for what they do, how they do it, and importantly how they feel about what they do.
This can then be followed up with questions that address any gaps in essential information.
Importantly there is as much to learn from what a business owner DOESN’T say as there is from what they DO choose to talk about. Few people wish to delve into detail about mistakes they have made or may not even realise they are missing something in their business. So listen for the “silence” or absence of information and note it down to revisit via specific questions later.
It’s critical a coach truly and accurately understands a business, so clarify when necessary, asking for further detail or having a business owner repeat something in a way you understand. A great way to do this is to take notes throughout a discovery conversation, jotting down areas you’d like to come back to so you limit interruptions.
For example: “You mentioned your business plan earlier, when did you last redraft that plan?”, or “You were explaining you had a staff of 15 a couple of years ago, but downsized to 10, what prompted that reduction?”, or even: “Could you just take me through why you needed to downsize again?”
Interpreting involves mentally comprehending what someone has to say and then reconfiguring that information, and it’s particularly important for your own understanding along with allowing the speaker to feel heard.
Interpreting is not a straight parroting of information they have provided but more a succinct summary of the important facts. For example: “So when you had to downsize in 2012 that was related to an overhaul of your business procedure and it caused a bit of strain within the business partnership?”
Summarise and propose
Finally, once you have the necessary information, summarise the conversation and it’s most important points with a view to what will happen next.
For example: “OK, your last business plan was drafted in 2000 and hasn’t really been overhauled since then. You now have a few more staff on deck as well and your operation has changed a bit in the process. I think the best place to start would be to have a look at your plan, and your systems and procedures with a view to bringing them up to date. Then we’ll move into some techniques that can help you effectively manage that larger team. Does that sound like a suitable course of action to you?”
This summary is about the honing of the fine points of the conversation, and cross checking the speaker feels you have a handle on the information they imparted. You have also clarified and interpreted what they have said, but importantly translated the information into action.
The final word
Really hearing what your client has to say is critical to how effective you are as a coach. It involves being free of distractions and actively engaging in an informative conversation. If handled correctly, it will not only furnish you with the necessary information, but also establish that all-important basis of trust between you and a client.