Essential Coaching Skills – Focused Listening8 min read

Listening is an essential skill in coaching, work and at home. However, it could be described as a lost art. In this post I am bringing together everything I have read and viewed regarding listening that I have found helpful and has deepened my understanding.


* Please note this post includes affiliate links. This means if you click the link and make a purchase I may receive a commission.


We are losing our listening


As Julian Treasure explains in 5 ways to listen better we are losing our listening. Listening is intimately connected to asking good questions. If you aren’t listening, how can you expect to ask good questions? In coaching this is a crucial link. You need to listen to build rapport, to gain trust and to ask good questions that lead to deep thinking. As Julian Treasure explains, we spend 60 percent of communication listening, however we aren’t very good at it as we only retain 25 percent of what we hear. This means if you have a ten minute conversation you will likely only retain 2.5 minutes of what was said. Imagine a coaching session where your coachee is talking and you are only retaining 25 percent of what they are saying. Do you think you will be a good coach with this level of listening? And don’t heavily rely on note taking as this can reduce the quality of your listening and ability to build rapport when you take too many notes (Jobs, 2016).


As Julian Treasure stated we have invented ways of recording. Writing, audio and video recordings all mean we do not need to rely on listening well and retaining what we hear. In addition, we live in a busy noisy world that is filled with infinite distractions. Your mobile may beep and vibrate, your outlook might ping, teams may pop-up and to top it off you have a diary jammed with virtual meetings playing on your mind. It is simply much harder and tiring to listen well. Furthermore, we have grown increasingly inpatient. As Julian Treasure explains, we want soundbites rather than a full story. The media vie for our attention with sensationalist headlines. This means we struggle to listen to subtleness within a conversation. This is the bad news. The good new is with self-awareness and practice we can improve our listening skills 


Do you listen well?

Have you ever been in a conversation and wondered if the other person was listening to you? What made you think about this? Was it the person’s body language, a question they asked or something that indicated a lack of interest? Now, consider how this made you feel. Odds are, if you felt like the other person wasn’t interested you felt uncomfortable. This reduces the chances of an open and trusting relationship and impacts on ability to build rapport and trust.

Coaching Skills

Before becoming a coaching apprentice I was blissfully unaware of how poor my listening is. I am someone who works in middle management having progressed from an entry level role and working at pretty much every level in between. I communicate with others daily both verbally and written. Ironically, I had always considered myself an effective communicator. This even featured as a skill on my CV. However, when I started the coaching apprenticeship I reflected on my listening. I realised that I am frequently distracted either by my own thoughts or by environmental stimuli. This has led me to making the decision to consciously listen and to refocus when I realise I am not consciously listening.


Are you someone who is itching to get your point across, half listening to what is being said whilst you think about how you are going to respond. Do you wait patiently or do you interrupt the person to have your say? This could be perceived as rude or passionate. Whatever your view is, it is not good listening. However, don’t stress you are not alone and you can make the effort to listen. Never underestimate the importance of intention.


Why is listening important?


Conscious listening always creates understanding – Julian Treasure


You may be asking yourself why listening is important and how it links to coaching. Listening is a fundamental coaching skill. Good listeners build rapport more naturally through their attention to the person (Starr, 2017). This is significant as rapport is another fundamental skill a coach needs to be a good coach. In addition, to ask good questions you must listen well. The ability to ask good questions is another coaching skill. This is because good questions assist a person to think more deeply, understand the problem and find a solution. Listening carries such importance that Jobs (2016) recommends that in a coaching session the coachee (person being coached) should be doing at least 70 percent of the talking. This emphasises the importance of listening to a coach.

Why is listening important

Listening is important to a coach because:


  • You build rapport naturally with the coachee.
  • Your understanding of the coachee increases through good listening.
  • You give the coachee opportunity to talk and hear their own thoughts out loud.
  • You give the coachee opportunity to reflect more deeply.
  • You empower the person to find their own solutions.
  • You can focus on key parts of the conversation.


Dass (2016) refers to “deep listening” as a type of listening, stating that this level of listening allows a coach to gain a highly perceptive level of understanding and insight.


Silence encourages enquiry – Steve Jobs (2016)


Silence is something I struggle with. I don’t tend to provide the opportunity of silence. If someone isn’t quick to respond I repeat or rephrase the question. Of course this is done with good intentions. Silence encourages enquiry really brought home to me the importance of listening and not filling ‘awkward silence’ with unhelpful chatter. If you are silent you are encouraging deeper thinking by the coachee. This deeper thinking brings with it deeper understanding.


In addition, when you listen effectively you can focus on key parts of a conversation and revisit these as necessary. Or to put it another way, if as a coach, you fail to listen well you could miss key parts of the conversation. 


I knew prior to becoming a coaching apprentice that listening would be a key skill. However, I did not appreciate, until further research, just how important listening is if you are to be a good coach.


How to improve your listening 

Starr (2017) states that listening begins with intention and concentration. This means to listen well you need to focus on listening. In addition, you need your mind to be clutter free. If it isn’t, it could take your attention away from listening. One tip I have been given is before a coaching session, take 10 minutes to  clear my thoughts. Mindfulness can be helpful as can relaxation techniques. This means you are clearing your mind and preparing it to pay attention to the other person and taking attention away from yourself.

Improve your listening

Another important barrier to be aware of is thinking about your next comment. Lots of people listen with the intention to talk. To listen well you need to listen with the intention of understanding. This will be far more beneficial as a coach and will enable you to build rapport naturally and ask good questions.


One should judge a man by his questions rather than his answers – Voltaire


In Julian Treasure’s video (above) he shared his five 5 ways to listen better:


  • Silence – even if it is just three minutes a day. Sit in silence to reset your ears and recalibrate so you can hear the quiet again.
  • “The Mixer” – in a noisy environment how many channels of sounds can you hear?
  • “Savouring” – an exercise where you enjoy mundane sounds.
  • Listening positions – play with your filters – watch the video to see what some of the listening positions are (approximately 05:17 into the video).
  • RASA 

          – Receive – pay attention to the person 

          – Appreciate – making listening noises like “hmm” “ok” 

         – Summarise – Julian adds that the word “so” is important in communication 

         – Ask – ask questions when the person has finished.


If you want to gain an understanding about your listening skills I found this Mind Tools quiz How good are your listening skills quiz? helpful. It was useful in understanding areas of listening I need to improve in and gave tips on developing these areas. The quiz is short and comprises 14 questions. You will receive a score out of 70 and your feedback will be given in three areas – preparing to listen, active listening and empathetic listening.




  • Listening is a fundamental coaching skill however it is something that generally we are not good at as we only retain 25 percent of what we hear.

  • Listening is an important skill for a coach as it allows them to naturally build rapport, helps them to understand the person and focus on important parts of the conversation.


  • Listening can be improved through self-awareness, intent and paying attention to the person.


The Book Club


In this post I have shared two books that have helped me to better understand good listening, why it is an important coaching skill and how to improve your listening.


Brilliant Coaching – Julie Starr (2017)


The Coaching Manual – Julie Starr (2016)


1 thought on “Essential Coaching Skills – Focused Listening<span class="wtr-time-wrap after-title"><span class="wtr-time-number">8</span> min read</span>”

  1. Pingback: Coaching and the Power of Silence | Coaching Apprentice

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