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A - Z Coaching and Mentoring - This week's extract explores Listening – the different levels and how to ask better coaching questions depending on what you’ve heard.

Don't forget if you have a special request for a definition of a coaching term or principle, just let us know! Perfect for anyone studying for an ILM Coaching & Mentoring qualification, or as a refresher for experienced coaches.



Listening A great coach listens to the spoken word and body language. Listening skills are most frequently described as having different levels:

  • Level 1 – listening to the conversation as if fully involved. For example, the client describes a situation at work, the coach remembers as similar situation from their past and starts to experience the memory and have opinions and ideas as a result. The coach has thoughts about the memory and gives less thought to the client’s situation as a result. This is also known as first position. 
  • Level 2 – the coach is noticing the situation from the client’s perspective and is fully associated with the other person (second position). 
  • Level 3 – the coach is conscious of the client but in a way that is more dissociated and detached. The coach is the observer of the client as well as themselves (third position) and is noticing the dance of the coaching and responding accordingly. The coach is listening to what isn’t being said, so will notice the structure of what the client is saying, not just the content. More subtle cues will come to light and coaching questions can be adapted accordingly. The coach can pay attention to their intuition and other reactions.

The ALIFE™ model (Wahl and Stroul) is designed to help the coach to ask better coaching questions depending on what they have heard. When listening to a client, notice aspects of their situation that fall into one of these five areas and then ask questions specific to developing that area: 

  • Authentic – listen for where the client’s authenticity has been diminished and they are not staying in touch with the person they wish to be.
  • Leadership – is the client focused on their future, reflective about the past, receptive to feedback and thinking ahead strategically? If not, what questions could be asked to help this way of thinking to develop and be sustained? 
  • Intentionality – focus on the outcome with purpose. If goals are weak and vague, help the client to develop a crystal clear intention. 
  • Fear/courage – listen for fear and help the client to become more courageous. 
  • Execution – move into action.

Here is another way of distinguishing listening types: 

  • External listening – listening to the words the client says and how they are said, including VAK. 
  • Intuitive listening - what the client isn’t saying or the patterns behind what they are saying.

Taken from the A-Z Coaching Handbook by Clare Smale where you will find a comprehensive A-Z, plus a full list of references.


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