People embarking upon coaching training often say that they feel they’re not doing very much. After all they’re doing more listening than talking – generally a 70/30 ratio – which can often feel as if they’re somehow not adding value. And yet, as I’ve mentioned in my previous blog on listening listening properly is not only incredibly difficult – especially for a sustained period of time - but it’s a key skill in helping people identify and commit to making the changes they need.
To do this, you need to show that you are listening – not just through your body language or through powerful open questions – but by honing your summarising and reflecting skills. Why? Lots of reasons, and here are just a few:
- If your client is someone who “talks in order to think” (if you’re familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or MBTI you’ll know this is a classic sign of the Extraversion preference) they start to make sense of things as they say them out loud. They may have to say a version of the same thing several times before it makes complete sense and before it “sticks” for them. Having the coach summarise regularly is helpful because it moves that process of “stickiness” on.
- Whether your client has that preference for Extraversion, or its opposite, Introversion (they think in order to talk – spotted often in people who are comfortable with silence), they will often cite the summaries and reflections as key things that have been helpful to their thinking and decisions at the end of each session.
- The process of summarising also gives the client the opportunity to let the coach know they have missed something of what’s been said in their summary – or whether they’ve misinterpreted something, giving the client the opportunity to correct that.
- The process of reflecting – key emotions, words and themes – on the other hand is an opportunity for the client to have the mirror figuratively held up to them, as the coach gathers up the recurring strands of their conversation and presents it to them for their further deliberation. Sometimes as a coach you’ll simply make a statement “You’ve mentioned this three times so far this session.” And at others you’ll add to that a question such as “How does that strike you?”.
- Once again, coaching clients like this, it encourages them to pay closer attention to something that may have been bubbling away under the surface and which perhaps needs more exploration. Or of course it may well be that once this has been highlighted it’s easily understood and disappears. Either way it helps the client focus on what next.
We don’t habitually do either of these things in everyday conversation; so at the beginning of the coaching relationship, you explain to your client what you’ll be doing to help their thinking along, and make explicit that summarising and reflecting are in the mix.
I often say that it’s going to feel a bit odd for them at the outset, and my experience is that that’s absolutely true. But each and every time clients note how helpful it is ultimately.
This week I am my own case study! How meta. Recently I was working with a wonderful coaching client (although really, they are all wonderful), and I found my summarising and reflecting skills coming in handier than ever. This person is one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. They think and speak almost as fast as the speed of light, with clarity, precision and a wonderful turn of phrase. After three hours together I’m always exhausted and hungry as my brain burns fuel to keep up (we do have a quick break in the middle to give us both the opportunity to refuel and gather our thoughts)!
But I need to summarise and reflect a lot; so that I can be sure that the huge amounts of material that we get through are given relevant care and attention and that I am keeping up. Additionally, I need to be assertive and interrupt appropriately (we explore how to do this at the outset, don’t worry!) in order to check that we genuinely are talking about relevant “stuff” and to get the opportunity to do my job properly.
I come out of those sessions feeling that I’ve been really stretched and have honed my skills for my next client, whoever that might be. Maybe you?
Now I’m just being downright cheeky. But I wanted to suggest that if you’ve read this far – and you’ve also read the blog on listening – that you might be amenable to going off and practising some of this?
How about, next time you engage in an important conversation with someone, you try a bit of a summary…”So let me just check that I’ve understood everything you’ve told me so far….” and look for an opportunity to reflect….”I can see that’s really important to you….”, or…”You sound upset when you talk about that….” These little keys open the door for more thinking – aloud or otherwise – that will truly build empathy, rapport, trust and results for your relationship.
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about the author
Nicky Denegri is our Senior Consultant. If you would like to know more about this subject, drop her an email and we will be in touch.