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Listening for Transformation

By Martha Lasley, Virginia Kellogg,
Richard Michaels & Sharon Brown

Coaching for Transformation

The human spirit and the human condition improve when people hear each other deeply.

Listening is foundational to the coaching process. The three levels of listening are self-focused listening, client-focused listening and transformation-focused listening.

Self-focused listening

Self-focused listening includes paying attention to our thoughts, body, emotions and intuition. When we bring awareness to what is happening within, in the moment, we recognize the choice to shift from reaction and judgment to the wisdom of the entire body-mind system. This heightened awareness makes intuition more accessible.

For instance, in the middle of a session, if we notice tension or we start thinking about a conflict from yesterday, we can bring our attention into the tension and the body lets go. Our physical sensations and emotions can be a distraction or they can inform the coaching. If we sense that we are distracted by our inner experience, we can choose to come back to be more fully present with the client.

If we sense our thoughts are stimulated by our client’s experience, we can ask, “What does my inner confl ict want?”

When we cultivate inner awareness and follow our intuition, the coaching is more in tune with what is happening in the moment. We become more effective and model the practices we want our clients to develop. Self-awareness nourishes our ability to listen deeply to another.

Self-focused listening ranges from paying attention to transient thoughts to deep awareness of what is happening in the moment. When our attention is focused in the now, we shift from thinking to awareness. Awareness has the brilliant function of allowing choice and is more in tune with the needs in the moment. When we notice what is happening within ourselves, without judging, we are more successful in being present and available.


Noticing our limiting beliefs about what the client is saying

Staying present with or exploring the meaning of the butterflies in our stomach

Listening to our intuition telling us to explore our feeling of alarm

Trusting our desire to share a metaphor

Noticing that we are triggered, we choose in the moment to journal after coaching so that we can be present with our client now

Client-focused listening

In client-focused listening we narrow our focus so all our attention is on the other person. Listening to content and word choice gives us clarity about what is most important to the speaker. But we also listen for what the client is not saying. We pay attention to the nuances of their mannerisms, pace, volume and tone. Conscious, clear, empathic listening fosters self-awareness and affi rms their experience.


Hearing the words of the story and listening for the underlying desires

Listening for the values at stake when the client appears to be stuck

Noticing the excitement as the voice gets louder or more energized

Hearing the change in emotions when the client shifts to new revelations

Sensing the underlying desire for relief as our client repeatedly says he doesn’t want to talk about sadness

Transformation-focused listening

Transformation-focused listening is being attentive to all that’s happening within ourselves, our clients and the environment. Hearing the whole symphony, we have a heightened sense of the flow of the coaching conversation and the clients’ inner process. We can sense the openings, new possibilities, emerging opportunities and forces that generate change.

Awareness is inherent in transformation-focused listening, which creates an environment that fosters opportunities for profound personal transformation. As a coach, we intuit moments of opening—opportunities for our clients to explore feelings and insights and to become aware of what is waiting to be born.

At the heart of transformation-focused listening we attune to who people are becoming and what possibilities are emerging. Holding people as resourceful and whole supports transformational listening.


Noticing the shift when the client is talking about something ordinary and then sees a bigger picture

Sharing intuition that takes the client to an intriguing realization

Focusing on the same thing at the same time in an eff ortless flow with the client that moves into new territory

Following the client’s lead with a mutual sense of unfolding creativity as you go

Noticing the client’s words are particularly charged with energy and sensing her attunement with her inner truth

Shifting the focus of listening

We can hold our attention on all three areas of listening simultaneously, or we can hold our focus on one area, staying continuously aware of what will serve the client. For instance, we may shift through all three areas of focus rapidly when we connect with our intuition. Intuition is informed by self-focused awareness, and when we share it, we pick up the reaction as we shift to a client focus, and then shift to the focus on transformation.

Enhancing our listening

We can enhance our listening by practicing the following:

Creating trust—reduces resistance

Being curious—cultivates receptivity

Staying in the moment—increases engagement

Reflecting core values—enhances ownership

Allowing for silence—creates space for intuition and feeling

Capturing opportunities—generates proactive behavior
Excerpt from the book Coaching for Transformation: Pathways to Ignite Personal & Social Change by Martha Lasley, Virginia Kellogg, Richard Michaels and Sharon Brown. As faculty at Leadership that Works, they certify coaches who offer personal, organization and community transformation. Check out the free Power of Coaching teleclass.

Coaching is life-changing, world-changing work. The coaching programs at Leadership that Works go beyond theories and models and work with clients on a deeper level. You learn how to coach the whole person: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Whole person Transformation.

Leadership that Works

Transforming the world.
One heart at a time.

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