Helping You Create a Life You Love

How to become a better listener

Today I want to talk to you about how to become a better listener.

This is probably one of the most important skills you need to be a good coach, or just to be effective in any communication. There are many layers to this question but I’ll start with the functions of language.

So, most of our communication involves a shared language. However, we have to be able to detect various meanings beneath the surface of what the client says.

In other words, we have to distinguish between various functions of language.

For example, when I was a new coach, I would ask the client if they wanted to take action on certain assignments, in order to move forward on their goals. They may say YES but then they wouldn’t actually do it. I was feeling really frustrated and even had some monologue going on in my head, I thought, “Why did you make a promise and didn’t keep it?”

And I also often hear clients complain about someone in their lives not keeping their word.

It seems to be a common occurrence in communication.
It’s not like these people are just untrustworthy and give empty promises. So what’s the mechanism here?

This puzzled me for quite a while until I learned about the different functions of language.

So, let me tell you more about it: When someone says YES, this “YES” may mean different things. Often, we say “YES” just to keep the communication channel open. This type of ‘YES’ works in the same way as phrases such as “ uhmm, sure, ok, great, of course, absolutely” This is what we call a PHATIC FUNCTION. It can be observed in greetings and casual discussions. We use it as a habit to keep the communication going.

So, the word people use may be the same, in this case, the word is “YES”, but the meaning is different, as the functionality of this word is different. In linguistic terms – the signifier – the “YES” may sound the same, but the signified, the meaning is different

Now, as a coach, I need to elicit a very different quality of “YES” from the client to interrupt her comfort zone. The “YES” I am looking for is a commitment, delivered as an expression of the heart and the mind. This is what we call an Emotive/ or Expressive function of language.

This is where we coach the clients to connect more deeply with themselves, to find the purpose and meaning in the new action they are undertaking. We do this by asking questions to find motivation, guiding them to visualize the whole process, and discussing any potential obstacles, until they can fully embody the promise.

Only then should we ask them to actually verbalize what this new commitment is about. The client can now make the promise to act in a certain way, with genuine conviction and often with a feeling of excitement. Now the YES is performing the Emotive/ or the Expressive function of language. And it is more likely that they will take their promises more seriously.

Now, I invite you to observe this in your own life. Do you sometimes say YES mindlessly? And, when you hear a YES from someone, try to assess the quality of that YES, and see if you can help to make that YES more meaningful

Ok that’s what I have for you today. We’ll talk more about deep listening and other functions of language soon. If you are interested to learn more, check out our training at New York Life Coaching Institute. Take care!




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As Featured In Elle Magazine