Yesterday, I dove into the pitfalls of concocting narratives in our minds based on others’ words. Today, let’s explore a powerful antidote to this issue: “already actively listening.”

This concept might sound like a mouthful, but it’s quite simple in practice. “Already actively listening” is a barrier to genuine communication, where individuals are physically present in a discussion but not truly engaged. Instead of absorbing what the other person is saying, they’re preoccupied with their own thoughts, often rehearsing their next argument or mentally countering points before they’re fully made. This is especially prevalent in contentious discussions where both parties are convinced they are right, leading to a cycle where no one is genuinely listening but rather waiting for their turn to speak.

Let me give you an example of this. 

Imagine you’re in a coaching session, and your client, Alex, is discussing a challenge they’re facing at work. As Alex describes the situation, you find yourself thinking, “Oh, I’ve seen this before. I know exactly what they should do.” So, even as Alex is still explaining their perspective, your mind is racing ahead to solutions, advice, and stories from your own experience that you think will help.

However, in doing so, you miss a crucial detail Alex shares about why those standard solutions won’t work for them due to a unique aspect of their work environment. Because you were already actively listening – but not in the present, attentive way – you jump in with advice that, to Alex, feels off-mark and irrelevant.

Alex, feeling unheard, becomes frustrated, and the session becomes a cycle of miscommunication. You’re trying to steer them toward what you believe is the solution while they’re trying to express why that solution doesn’t fit their needs. Both of you leave the session feeling disconnected and unproductive.

And here’s another example of a client “already actively listening.”

During a strategy session, you’re discussing with your client, Jamie, potential approaches to expand their online business. You begin to outline a step-by-step plan that has worked well for others in similar situations. However, as you’re explaining, you notice Jamie’s responses are quick, almost automatic, saying things like, “Yeah, I’ve tried that,” or “I read about that, and it doesn’t work for me.”

It becomes clear that Jamie isn’t fully absorbing the nuances of your suggestions. Instead, they’re filtering everything through their past experiences or preconceived notions about what will or won’t work for their business. This “already actively listening” mode prevents Jamie from considering the tailored advice you’re offering, advice that accounts for their unique position and market but slightly diverges from the conventional wisdom or their past attempts.

Jamie’s preoccupation with their own thoughts and quick dismissal of new ideas, based on the belief that they already understand and have evaluated them, stifles the potential for innovation and growth. It’s a missed opportunity to explore fresh strategies that could be the key to unlocking new levels of success for their business.

So, what can we do to prevent this from happening? Here are a few pointers:

Spotting “Already Actively Listening”

  • Quick Responses: Notice if the conversation feels more like a tennis match of quick volleys back and forth rather than a flowing exchange. This can indicate that both parties are not fully listening.
  • Interrupting: If either party frequently interrupts the other, it’s a sign that they’re more focused on delivering their own message than receiving someone else’s.
  • Lack of Paraphrasing: A conversation devoid of moments where one party reflects or paraphrases what the other has said may lack true engagement.

Addressing and Preventing “Already Actively Listening”

  • Pause Before Responding: Encourage a moment of silence before replying. This can help both the coach and the client fully process what’s been said and respond more thoughtfully.
  • Reflective Listening: Make it a practice to paraphrase or summarize the other person’s points before presenting your own. This not only shows that you’re truly listening but also clarifies any misunderstandings.
  • Foster Openness: Approach each conversation with an open mind, setting aside your agenda or the need to be right. This creates a safer space for genuine dialogue.
  • Model the Behavior: As a coach, lead by example. Show your clients how to listen actively and engage thoughtfully by doing so yourself. Your behavior sets the tone for the interaction.

Preventing It in Yourself as a Coach

  • Self-awareness: Regularly check in with yourself during conversations. Are you truly listening, or are you planning your next point? Awareness is the first step to change.
  • Seek Understanding: Make your primary goal to understand your client’s perspective fully. This shifts the focus from trying to be right to trying to comprehend the other person’s experience.
  • Practice Mindfulness: Engage in mindfulness practices outside of your sessions. This can improve your ability to stay present and focused during conversations, reducing the tendency to drift into your thoughts.

Recognizing and shifting from “already actively listening” to truly engaging in the conversation is not just about improving communication; it’s about deepening connections and fostering an environment where real growth can happen. As coaches, it’s vital to create a space where clients feel heard and understood, not just responded to. This shift requires not just patience and practice but also a commitment to genuinely being present in every interaction.

Incorporating these strategies into your coaching practice can transform your sessions from mere exchanges of ideas to powerful, collaborative problem-solving experiences. It encourages a mutual journey of discovery where both coach and client are learners and teachers in equal measure. This approach not only enhances the effectiveness of your coaching but also enriches your professional relationships, making each session a stepping stone towards profound, lasting change.

By embracing true listening, we open ourselves up to new perspectives, challenge our assumptions, and unlock the potential for transformative insights. This is the heart of effective coaching — guiding without leading, listening without assuming, and supporting without overshadowing. So, as we move forward, let’s commit to being fully present, not just in our coaching sessions but in all our communications. Let’s listen, not just hear, and in doing so, unlock the true power of connection and understanding.


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