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The lost art of listening


TUNE IN Coaches who listen do a better job.


Paul O'Brien

Progress inevitably means the loss of things. New technologies replace old, new ideas cause a paradigm shift and new methods improve how we do things. Mostly, what’s lost is not missed. The benefits of what’s been gained outweigh the losses.
There are also times when what’s been lost cannot be replaced or improved upon, however. Sometimes the old ways are best. Over the course of my training and life coaching work, it strikes me that we have lost, to at least some extent, one of our innate, basic skills: listening. It truly is a lost art form.

Daily distraction
We live at a fast pace, connected to each another through new technologies that give instantaneous feedback and negate the necessity to sit down with someone face to face. This new way of communication has brought many benefits, allowing us to connect to the world. In human relationships, however, there is still an urgent need for high-quality listening. One field where this holds true is that of coaching young people.

Knowledge bias
Coaches for young people should hone their listening skills to become better at their job. This can be difficult, in that there is an expectation that the coach imparts knowledge and the players/students listen. This knowledge bias can create a need to ‘get it right’, which can hinder a coach from listening.
So, a good first step is to accept that you don’t have all the answers and that listening to input and feedback from your charges can yield as much fruit as anything you have to say.

Critical development
When, as coaches, we work with young people it’s paramount to remember that we are not just working with students seeking knowledge or players developing skills. Teenagers are still making sense of their world, developing opinions and testing beliefs. This is a critical stage of development and a teen’s life path can be positively affected with the right guidance at this time.
Teens these days are also exposed to unique challenges that perhaps their coaches did not face at their age. Peer pressure is more prevalent with the advent of social media, as is cyber-bullying. Teens can easily feel disconnected from others if they feel they don’t conform to a stereotype. Though this social pressure has been around a long time, it’s fair to say that it’s at a different level in the 21st century.

Holistic coaching
There is, then, a need for a coach to take a holistic approach. Simply understanding the experience of teens can help build a solid platform of trust and growth. This can be gained by simply listening to what your students or players have to, letting them know that they’re in a safe space and assuring confidentiality. Offering the opportunity to discuss matters in group settings where people work in small groups is another effective tool.

Non-verbal listening
One of the most effective tools in a coach’s toolkit is well-honed non-verbal listening. In one-to-one conversation this simply means listening to what’s not being said. The philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti struck a chord when he said that fully listening to someone means ‘listening not only to the words but to the feeling of what is being conveyed’.
This can only be achieved by being fully present when listening, as this deep and attentive listening can help you pick up or intuit feelings behind words. Non-verbal cues can also be seen in body language, facial expression and general demeanour. A watchful coach can detect these and perhaps prevent a problem from escalating.

Practise, practise, practise
While the science behind becoming an excellent listener involves skill development, you don’t have to be a qualified psychologist to start practising these skills. Take the time to do a little research. Better still, start practising now with the relationships in your life. Sit and attentively listen to someone. Fully focus on what the person is saying and absorb their words. You might learn a lot.

Paul O’Brien is a certified personal trainer with the American Council on Exercise since 2007 and a qualified Life, Health & Nutrition Coach.
He is co-owner of Republic of Fitness in Westport. He can be contacted on 086 1674515 or

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