Can Ya Hear Me Now?

by  John E. Smith  |  Leadership Coaching
Can Ya Hear Me Now?

As I joined the many who enthusiastically celebrated the launch of Co-Active Leadership by Henry and Linda Kimsey-House over the past week, I also chose to take another look at their earlier book, Co-Active Coaching.

Both books reflect a deeply human approach to their topics, with a strong emphasis on the relationships which create strength and opportunity for all involved. While each title is distinct and stands nicely on its own, knowing and using the valuable information from both is like getting a nice Christmas bonus of learning and professional development.

Co-Active Coaching is considered a foundational text for leadership and life coaching, and it lives up to its reputation in a big way.

Co-Active Coaching

One important commonality between the two titles is the use of the term Co-ActiveCo, drives what emerges and is accomplished in the Active.

Much exists in Co-Active Coaching that will interest those of us who care about developing good leaders and helping people grow. One section really stood out for me, because it focuses on something we all do and which has the strongest impact on the quality of our relationships, whether we lead, coach, or both, as is so often the case.

Three Levels Of Listening

As coaches listen, they make choices that change the direction and focus of coaching.” (Pg. 40)

I doubt anyone will be surprised that this essential coaching and leadership topic is Listening. As the authors point out, we all listen often enough, although we also often do not listen to the depth they discuss.

The levels discussed in the book are based on the interaction of two important dynamics in the coaching relationship: Awareness and Impact. Awareness involves gathering information, upon which we will base our actions and behaviors. Impact involves what happens when we act. Continued awareness building results in further actions and further evaluation of the results, and so it goes.

In short, we become aware of information through a range of channels, consider what we will do with what we have become aware of, and ultimately analyze how our actionswill affect the relationship, in a continuing learning cycle.

I have created a brief and generalized explanation of each of the three levels below. As you read, consider honestly in which stage your own listening usually occurs and how you might move to a deeper level.

Level 1 – Internal Listening

When we listen at Level 1, we hear the words spoken by others, but internally focus squarely on our own thoughts, experience, needs, and desires. We listen, but only to formulate our response. What we say and how we respond is driven by our own goals and feelings about the situation.

It’s less about listening to understand and more about listening to respond. Unfortunately this is both the most common way in which we listen AND the least effective way to create a strong relationship with another.

While professional coaches or leaders should move beyond this level most of the time, the employee or client is supposed to be at this level, focused on their own needs … this is as it should be.

Level 2 – Focused Listening

When we engage in focused listening, our full attention goes to the other person, with less awareness of the outside world and possible distractions. Words like empathy, clarification, and collaboration apply nicely to this level, where the relationship is more about learning how to see the world through the other’s eyes.

We move from focusing on ourselves while listening to another, to the much more productive state of focusing on that other. As we hear their words, we engage in curious exploration of their world and their perceptions by asking questions and considering their responses.

We usually think this is successful coaching and leadership. This is how most of us visualize successful coaching, as people engaging in active listening and relationship building.

Level 3 – Global Listening

However, a third level exists. When we listen at Level 3, we receive and process information arriving from multiple and diverse channels, including the other person, the environment, and our own intuition. We adjust our own words and actions as we assimilate and consider information from all sources.

“Listen as though you and the client were at the center of the universe.” (Pg. 37)

In Level 3 Listening, the true art of being an effective coach and leader comes into play. To absorb and evaluate spoken and unspoken information from varied sources requires special skills, developed over time by careful practice and the structure of a professional development plan.

We are now listening “beyond the words” and this is powerful country in which to roam.

For an expanded and more nuanced description of effective listening, along with some excellent examples to clarify the differences between the levels, see Co-Active Coaching, Chapter 3, pages 31-37.

When have you listened to someone else at Level 3? How was your relationship with that other changed because of this?
Photo Credit: Morguefile

About The Author

Articles By john-smith
I enjoy helping people learn and grow through intentional, strategic, and social interventions. I coach, teach, train, facilitate, organize, write, speak, design, and lead at the intersection of leadership, learning, and human behavior. I am a CCE Board Certified Coach (BCC) with specializations in both Leadership/Business and Life/Personal coaching. My primary blog is The Strategic Learner on Wordpress.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

David Greer  |  29 Sep 2015  |  Reply

Hi John,

Powerful listening indeed.

I recently graduated from the CTI coach training program. That program consists of five 3-day sessions, each one with its own theme and focus. I can tell you from personal experience that each and every day we were pushed into listening at level three, by CTI coaches who each had at least a decade of experience at level three listening. What an experience.

We were also pushed to listen with all of our body. If I am in the middle of coaching someone and suddenly my knee hurts, test it out with the client. “My knee hurts right now–does that mean anything to you?” When we did this in training I was astonished at how often the “client” across from me related to what it was that I asked them when some feeling showed up in my body.

At the same time, if it didn’t resonate for the client, it was time for me to let go. This is true of everything you try in CTI coaching. Try, check for response, if you get none, try something else. Letting go of our preconceived notion of how a coaching session should go was a lot of the experiential training I got from the CTI program. But now we’re beyond just listening skills and into more of what Co-Active Coaching is about.

Thanks for sharing your insights on the book. It was a great reminder to me of ways that I need to show up every day to be a better coach, husband, father, and friend.



John E. Smith  |  29 Sep 2015  |  Reply

Hi, David – thanks for commenting.

I am now officially jealous that you are experiencing this model up close and personal. I consider this one of, if not the best coaching model out there and I have researched many of them.

I am not surprised at the focus and rigor you mention. The best programs take their work very seriously – this just reinforces the value of CTI training, as far as I’m concerned.


David Greer  |  29 Sep 2015  |  Reply

Hi John,

After 15 days of CTI training I had one conclusion–you can only become a better coach by having the experience of being a coach. You can’t just read about it–you need to be doing coaching.

Over the years, I’ve coached in many ways, many times, with many different people. In CTI, I got to experience coaching at an entirely new level. While also experiencing myself from new perspectives. This is powerful stuff.

I highly recommend CTI for anyone that wants to consider coaching as part of their work. Or their life.



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