Listening: #1 of the 5 Best Life Coaching Skills

September 03, 2015 by John Andrew Williams

The 5 Life Coaching Skills that Will Change Your Life

Every life coach has her or his own favorite set of life coaching skills. This mini-series takes a short journey through 5 of my favorite life coaching skills. Those skills:

#1: Levels of Listening

#2: Coach the Client, Not the Problem (A coach’s mindset)

#3: Simple, Curious Questions

#4: Levels of Motivation

#5: Well-Designed Actions

I still remember where I was sitting in my first life coach training course learning about Level 1 and Level 2 listening. When we worked on simple, curious questions, I was hooked. I experienced the power of coaching from both a client’s and coach’s perspective. Several life coaching concepts have had a huge impact on the rest of my life, professional and personal, and I would like to share them with you.

#1 Levels of Listening

Perhaps life coaching’s foundational skill: listening. Do people tell you that you are a good listener? If so, perhaps a career as a life coach is in the future. A life coach is, basically, a professional listener.

Levels of Listening doesn’t apply simply to whether or not you are listening. Rather, it refers to the point-of-view of your listening.

A different perspective changes everything.

For all those grammar geeks out there, people who took Latin, or people who taught Latin (there are perhaps about a dozen of us left), the levels refer the person of the verb. A verb has both a person (1st, 2nd, and 3rd) as well as a number (singular or plural). And for the super geeks out there, tense, voice, and aspect make up the remaining 3 possible grammatical elements of verbs. Bonus points if you knew what aspect was. Here’s a link to check.

Level 1 Listening

Level 1 is listening from a 1st person perspective. While listening, you ask yourself, “What does this have to do with me?” Or perhaps you mind wanders and you’re thinking, “This reminds me of that one time when I did something similar.” Or perhaps, “I know something really great to say next.”

For sure, Level 1 has its uses. However, as a life coach, Level 1 is not the most effective way to listen.

Level 2 Listening

Level 2 listening is the main skill a life coach uses. If I had the chance to teach everyone in the world just one life coaching skill, it would be how to listen Level 2.

The 2 in Level 2 refers to the 2nd person of a verb: the you singular or plural. You are listening and asking yourself questions or thinking thoughts like this:

“What does what this other person is saying have to do with him or her?”

“I’m really curious about how this aspect affects his or her life?”

“I wonder what it’s like to be the person I’m listening to.”

The unfortunate aspect of this skill is how rare it is outside of life coaching or other helping professions. So many people are walking around listening Level 1, only sometimes slipping into Level 2. At first, Level 2 is a challenge. It can be tough to sustain Level 2 listening for longer than 10 minutes at first.

When you get used to Level 2 listening, however, it’s a truly beautiful skill and as easy to slip into Level 1 or Level 2 depending on the situation.

Level 3 listening

I used to think that Level 3 listening was silly, almost a joke made up by the Californian hippies who created the term life coaching. I still think sometimes it is silly. Although I now know it was made up by the good people of England in the form of Neurolinguistic Programming or NLP for short.

Yes, NLP was the originator of Levels of Listening that have been borrowed by Life Coaching.

Level 3 refers to listening from the 3rd person as if you were an outside observer watching both you as a coach coaching and your client speaking.

Level 3 is where things get weird, and I don’t usually go for Level 3 in the ALC 1.0 course. We address it in the 2.0 course though. I still think, however, it’s a great skill to know and practice when the chance comes up, but it’s not totally necessary for a great life coaching session.

When you’re listening Level 3, here are the kinds of things you’d say to yourself as you’re listening:

“I wonder what this feeling I have has to do with my client and what my client is saying?”

“How does this impact our relationship?”

“How can this relationship best support the client?”

Level 3 is a little tricky since it includes both you as a coach and client, but it basically boils down to listening to everything you and your client are saying and feeling, and asking yourself how it applies to your client or your professional coach-client relationship.

Go Level 2

For me, Level 2 is the foundation of life coaching. Using the skill will open up new pathways and opportunities for you to build stronger relationships and use all of the other life coaching skills. Without it, life coaching wouldn’t be a profession.

Also read: Coach the Client, not the Problem: #2 of the Five Best Life Coaching Skills

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