Are you listening carefully?

In a recent coaching session, Pete and I were talking about his team  and in particular the effectiveness of his one-to-ones. Pete felt that he and his team members did a lot of talking but then they came out of the meeting and nothing really seemed to change. He couldn’t put his finger on what the problem was, particularly as he feels he’s a pretty good listener. We decided to role-play a one-to-one so we could try to analyse what was happening.

I threw myself into the role of a disgruntled team member and told Pete about how annoyed I was at being passed over for an opportunity to lead a new project. Pete gave me plenty of time to talk but I could see from his body language that he was itching to speak.

We paused the conversation, stepped outside the role play and I asked him what he was thinking as I was talking.

‘Firstly, I thought “oh great, now I’ve got a disgruntled team member to deal with.” Then I realised that was a bit selfish and I remembered that something like that happened to me too. Then I thought “if this happened to me now, what would I do about it?” Then I thought “ah good, now I know what I need to tell her to do” and I just wanted you to stop talking so I could tell you,’ replied Pete with a slightly sheepish grin.

‘Wow, how did you manage to listen to me as well as work all that out?’ I asked.

‘To be honest, once you’d told me what the problem was, I wasn’t really listening properly. I thought you’d feel listened to if I didn’t interrupt you’, he laughed.

Hemingway typewriter quote listen

Wise words from Ernest Hemingway

‘Okay, let’s try it the other way round – I’ll be the boss this time and do what you did whilst you were listening to me,’ I suggested.

So we swapped roles and replayed the conversation. After Pete finished, I told him about a similar experience I’d had, what I did and what I thought he needed to do now. Then I asked him how he felt.

‘I felt a bit deflated really. I felt like you’d missed the point – it wasn’t so much about what had happened but about how I felt about it. It didn’t feel like you understood why this was important to me or how fed up I was. I wasn’t asking you to sort this out for me – I just wanted you to realise how important this was to me and why I’m frustrated. Now I feel like I just have to agree with you and then carry on as before,’ said Pete, ‘and now I know why my one-to-ones aren’t working. I may think I’m listening to them but I’m filtering it all through my own perspective.’

We spent the rest of the session coming up with some questions that Pete can use to keep him focused on the team member rather than getting sidetracked into thinking about himself. Some of them are for him to actually ask the speaker – others are just reminders for him:

  • What would you like to get out of this conversation?
  • How is this making you feel?
  • Is there anything you would like me to do?
  • What impact does this have on you?

Internal questions –

  • What is he focusing on?
  • Does her body language match up with what she’s saying?
  • What isn’t he saying?
  •  What’s really important to her here?

Pete’s been using these questions in the team one-to-ones lately. He is much more satisfied with how the sessions are going but to make sure that wasn’t just a one-sided reaction, he asked his team members for some feedback too. This is what they said:

‘I feel like you’re supporting me to come up with my own solutions’

‘I have to do more to prepare for the meeting but I’m getting more from it’

‘It seems like you’re really listening to me and that you trust me more’

‘I feel like if I do ask you to do something for me, you understand why’

 That all sounds pretty good to me.

Today’s pebble for your consideration: are you listening carefully? 

What do you think?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If you’d like to take action and create positive change in your work and life, why not email me to see how we could work together?




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3 Responses to Are you listening carefully?

  1. Barbara says:

    This was very helpful. Made me realize how special and restoring it is to be listened to and not to have what you say filtered through the listener’s experience. Making me more aware too. Thanks!

  2. Pingback: Can difficult conversations be made any easier? | Turning over pebbles

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