Listens Actively: ICF Core Competency 6

Posted On: March 16, 2021

Written by: Jennifer Kumar (Managing Director, head Coach of Authentic Journeys) 

What would you consider to be the most important communication skill, which leads to more productive, interactive and memorable conversations? Of course, by the title of this video, you know, my answer is listening. 


I would like to share some strategies in this video, how you can up-level your listening skills, as well as examples from my own personal and professional experience of how I implemented some of these skills to up-level my own listening skills. These strategies are derived from the International Coaching Federation or ICF’s updated core competencies in 2021. 


Regardless if you are already a coach, thinking of becoming a coach, or have absolutely zero interest in becoming a coach  these strategies are helpful for anyone who wants to have memorable, interactive and/or productive human conversations. I’m Jennifer Kumar from Authentic Journeys. Thanks for listening to this video today.


Obviously, in this video I’ll be [doing] talking and not listening. Before I get into the strategies, I just wanted to preamble it with a few things. I will be looking at these strategies through the lens of cross-cultural coaching since I have done cross-cultural coaching with those in the software industry in India for the last 10 years. Additionally, the updated strategies from the ICF were updated through the lens of working with people in cross-cultural and diverse scenarios. Also, when I bring up some of these strategies, you see the terms coach and client. “Coach” can refer to you and “client” refers to anyone you are speaking with or having a conversation with.


Core Competency Markers for Listens Actively

So let’s look at six point one and six point two. I’m not going to read it. You can obviously pause it and read it and then listen to my examples. 


6.1: Coach’s questions and observations are customized by using what the coach has learned about who the client is or the client’s situation.    

6.2: Coach inquires about or explores the words the client uses.  


When we look at this, there are a few things to keep in mind. You may have heard my video on cultivating trust and safety (part 1part 2) where also I talked about adapting to the style of the client and avoiding assigning meaning. This directly relates to this.


We adapt to the style of -a client -of our clients or whoever we’re talking with by talking in their language, which could mean we learn a new language or we learn how to use our language differently so that it resonates with them. Not all words and phrases that are used in a language are used in the same way by everybody. So it might be prudent in some cases in conversations when we hear certain phrases, words, metaphors being used by whoever we’re speaking with, to actually extract those and say, “Oh, I hear a theme here, I hear the word X or I hear the metaphor. ABC. Could you share a little bit about what this word or phrase means to you?” 


And, then when we use it back with whoever we’re speaking with, we’re now using it with their meaning and their definition, their own assigned meaning not are assigned or assumed meaning. I would say also that if we just globalize this the most – one of the most- important lessons I ever learned was around ten plus years ago when I got my first coaching and training assignment in a multinational company in India. In our retrospective, which I’ll tell you about just a second, of the of the first set of sessions, the manager had said to me, 


“Your session was perfect. I really like how you delivered the session. However, I highly advise that you learn how to speak in our language. I’m not saying that you have to learn our local Indian language, but what I am suggesting is that you learn some of the jargon and terminology not only used in the software industry, but used in our company specifically as well, is in agile software development.” 


How to Give “Negative Feedback” in a Positive Way


“Retrospective” being one of those words. And I can say that was one of the most important lessons that I’ve learned, because as I have started learning and using that – those – terminologies not only within that company, but some of the terminologies with other clients I work with in the software industry, it helped me to build rapport real quick and build trust real quick. So especially if you have a specific now I’m talking as if you’re a coach, if you have a specific target market. It’s really important to talk in their language to build that rapport even quicker than you could otherwise do that. So you might not – you might not – build that rapport as quickly using coaching terminology as the terminology of some of those who you want to work with.


Our signature program Managing Client Expectations works with your teams to get in the minds of your clients to build better rapport, secure and expand your business. 

For example, let’s look at six point three and six point four.


6.3: Coach inquires about or explores the client’s emotions.    

6.4: Coach explores the client’s energy shifts, nonverbal cues or other behaviors.  


When we talk about strong emotions, people often think about things like crying or getting really emotional, upset, maybe angry, maybe irritated, frustrated. Since I tend to do coaching mostly in corporate environments, I don’t tend to see crying. I don’t think I’ve seen crying with any of my clients in a corporate scenario. But, I have seen anger. I’ve seen frustration. I’ve seen irritation, confusion on the other side. I’ve also seen extreme happiness. I’ve seen joy and excitement. Yes, people feel that at work, too, especially when they do a great job.


So, while I have noticed these these different feelings in individuals, I’ve also noticed them shifting their energy through maybe their body language, non-verbal cues and other other.


Other in other ways as well. Let me give you an example that will be easier. So one of my most common scenarios of coaching involves preparing the client for their client demo. So preparing my client for doing a software demo with their client. When my client comes into the session, they come in ready to give a mock demo to me as though I’m their actual client. So they start the demo actually, before they start the demo, they give me the the background, the context of the project, their relationship with the client up until this point and how it’s been going.. well, things that have not been going so well, maybe some of the team dynamics on their team when they’re talking about this part, they’re very confident, talking in a normal pace, not too fast, not too slow. They are so nervous. They’re nonverbal… body language is all seems very natural and spontaneous and not rehearsed or nervous or anything like that. But then once they switch over, when some people, many people switch over into the mock demo, where now they’re putting themselves in an actual scenario in their mind, where I’m their actual client, and then they’re in the scenario as a service provider, things suddenly take a big shift.


That confident person who was just speaking with me a minute ago, depending on their personality now, either they’re speaking really fast and losing their words or stumbling or talking really very slow or freezing. Sometimes some a few people actually just freeze up and they don’t say anything. All of a sudden, in addition to how they actually sound, their nonverbal body language also changes. Before they started, they might have been sitting up straight, just like what I’m doing right now. Then after they start the demo, they’re kind of intently looking into the screen and looking very intense or they’re leaning way back. And now I can’t really hear them that well or they’re leaning in way too close and it sounds like an echo or they just they slump down or a lot of different… different reactions nonverbally, depending on the person and how they are reacting to the situation. Some people notice this on their own. I don’t even have to ask them if they’ve noticed it. But then in some cases, when there’s a pause or after they actually finish their entire demo, my first question usually is, “What did you think about this?” Some people are able to bring it up and then in some other cases they’re not.


Or as we progress through the conversation, I will …I will address it by saying, 


“Do you mind if I share what I noticed? What I noticed is when you were giving me the context to your project in your demo, everything sounded fantastic. But then once you switched over to the demo, it was like you were a different person.” 


And then I kind of describe what I just said earlier to them, based on their scenario. And it’s amazing that the type of shift that happens in those I coach in this scenario and many of them from the next time they have to go do a demo, it there’s a big change, a big positive change in how they’re delivering that demo just because now they have this awareness about the scenario that they didn’t have before. It’s not only that we look at the different energy shifts, but why does it happen? What is the story in that person’s mind that creates that energy shift that person almost a personality shift that seems like such a different person that that actually they don’t want to be perceived as as well.


So all of that in-depth discussion actually helps them to overcome a lot of those barriers that keep them from delivering confident and impactful software demos to their clients. And we see amazing results. It’s just incredible, actually. It’s really incredible.


Get in touch with us for 1:1 coaching for you or team coaching for your team to deliver “knock your socks off” demos to your clients. 

I can go on about that forever. And you might have just noticed my energy shift as well.


The last three here.. coach inquires about or explores how the client currently perceives themself or the world. Actually, this is a continuation from the previous two because. I already kind of mentioned that how do they why did they change?


6.5: Coach inquiries about or explores how the client currently perceives themself or their world.  

Why did their energy suddenly change from confidence to not being confident in the demo?


So they will talk about how they perceive the client perceiving them, which may or may not always be true, but just based on certain ways of upbringing, culture, different things, people might perceive the client to be this overbearing over foreboding, intimidating personality, which when we really dive deep, deeper into the conversation, we realize that may be a misperception, that may not be the case and how to overcome that.


And there are a lot of ways… there are a lot of ways, a lot of success stories and then a six point six and six point seven.


6.6: Coach allows the client to complete speaking without interrupting unless there is a stated coaching purpose to do so.   

6.7: Coach succinctly reflects or summarizes what the client communicated to ensure the client’s clarity and understanding.  


When we talk about interrupting, there is a cultural difference. This is where still I feel some of these competencies still are really Western-centric, because definitely when I lived in India, interrupting was par for the course in conversations. In fact, in some cases, I’ll give you two examples in one in some cases where I was coaching with a client or just having a normal conversation with a person, for example, if of course, I would be nodding and trying to show my interest in the conversation to continue nonverbally. But in many cases where I didn’t say yes, yes, or tried to say something in between, the person I was speaking with would actually suddenly stop in the middle of what they were saying and say,


“You know, I’ve been talking for three or four minutes and you have said zero words to me. Are you really listening to me?”


And with some people, I would dive into this since we were also kind of talking about cross-cultural interactions and many would tell me that at least how they were brought up in their Indian context was if someone who they’re talking to didn’t kind of interrupt with the words in the middle of whatever they were saying, they…. they did not feel listened to. They felt like the other person was actually ignoring them because they were so quiet. So that was actually a context shift for me. That was like incredible learning. And I had to change my behavior.


And it is what they call that …style…”style switch,” I forget the exact term in the cross-cultural across world, but there’s, oh, code-switching, it’s called code-switching or style switching when you have to switch in between cultures and do something in that other culture that you’re not really used to doing in your birth culture or your most comfortable culture.


Is interrupting always rude (in a cross-cultural viewpoint)?

And another example of interrupting is… so in many of the client interactions I would have sometimes clients would take calls with their colleagues or other clients that they had, and we would just have to come back into the conversation. Normally, I would never answer my phone or I would turn my phone ringer off if I have my mobile phone with me. But there were a few occasions where I forgot to do that and I would just pick up the phone and say, excuse me, I’ll just turn off my ringer. And in some cases people would actually say, “No, no, no, it’s completely fine. I don’t feel bad if you need to take that call. In fact, I will feel bad if you don’t take that call because that person might not be able to call you back later. Maybe they really need to talk to you right now.”


So it was almost like they were completely fine with being interrupted because they didn’t want the person who’s trying to call me to be inconvenienced by either me not answering the phone or they having to try to call me back later and maybe not getting that opportunity to do so. So these are two totally different approaches that I mean, that’s a different approach I would have never have grown up with, in fact. So it’s amazing that in some cultures, interrupting is considered appropriate, in some cases respectful to someone. And the other person you’re actually talking with will give you the benefit of the doubt to interrupt that conversation. In fact, they might look forward to it on some level, which was really interesting insight for me. 


And the last point, six point seven. Yeah, summarizing. Summarizing is another skill that I often coach individuals in, especially in India, to to be able to do while they’re communicating with U.S. clients. And it’s often not considered very comfortable. In fact, some people have come to me and said, “Well, if I just summarize back, doesn’t that just sound like I’m just repeating back what the other person said?” 


Now, although we’re not supposed to do that, obviously, we can summarize it back in our own words, maybe using, you know, obviously keywords or phrases to mirror whoever we’re talking with. But in some cases, the summarizing is making some people from other cultures who aren’t used to summarizing feel like, well, nothing new is being added here. So are they really listening to me? Are there are they mocking me? Are they actually, you know, not taking me seriously because they’re just kind of repeating what I just said and repeating is use like generally, even if it’s a summary that’s not just repeating their own words, but summarizing using a somewhat different approach or terminology.


The other case we’re summarizing could become an issue. And maybe this isn’t cross-cultural, is this when it’s overdone. So we have to balance it. We don’t want to do it after everything the client or the person we’re talking to is saying, because then, yes, it can kind of sound a little odd, almost like we have nothing new to add to the conversation or no questions, even though usually a summary is followed up with some kind of question like, “Did I get that right?” or “Have I understood you correctly”? Or something along those lines? But still, we need to add in new content as a conversational partner. Just summarizing what someone says over and over again really can be… it can be a little off-putting in some cultures and with some individuals.


So as the coach or as the person kind of having a conversation, we just need to be observant and aware of our conversational partners kind of impressions of what makes a good conversation as well. And maybe also what they’re listening… preferred listening behaviors are that make them feel that they’re listened to. Maybe that can go back to the setting agreements with the client as well, or as we go through the process, actually even asking a client, 


“What makes you feel really listened to? How can I demonstrate that I’m really listening to you during our conversations?”


Because especially for working across cultures, we don’t always have that context as to what are their normal expectations and certain communication interactions. So I hope this has helped build some context to listening skills and different strategies and examples that help can help you up-level your listening skills as well. I know this video also has gone long. I just have to share examples. I love to hear your input and insights on this or if you apply any of these strategies after listening to this video, I’d like to hear that from you as well.


Please contact me at. Plus nine one nine five three nine three four seven five two nine, and that’s only on WhatsApp or Jennifer at authentic journeys dot info. Thanks again and hope to see you again. OK, bye.

Take a moment to listen to our insights into other ICF Core Competencies (2021):

  1. Demonstrates Ethical Practice 
  2. Embodies a Coaching Mindset 
  3. Establishes and Maintains Agreements  
  4. Cultivates Trust and Safety (part 1) (part 2
  5. Maintains Presence 
  6. Listens Actively
  7. Evokes Awareness
  8. Facilitates Client Growth
If you are interested to know more about this competency from the perspective of the ‘old competency’: Active Listening, where we discuss myths of listening, listening as a percentage of a total communication activity, body language and listening, what gets in the way of good listening, and types of listening, take a read of this post: ICF Core Competency: Active Listening 
Jennifer Kumar, author and ICF PCC credentialed coach initiated  the Coach 2 Coach Mastermind through the ICF High Country Chapter in 2021. Members who join the chapter can get a great deal on attending future cohorts, or look to this page for more information. The Coach 2 Coach Mastermind deep dives into the 2021 updated ICF Core Competencies 3 through 8 through discussion, application, peer coaching and feedback. Upon completion, you will receive a certificate of 7.5 CCEUs from the International Coaching Federation (ICF). We hope you can join us.


Find your Program!

Find your ideal program in just a few clicks.
Select Industry > Learning Level > Skill, to see 1-3 suggested programs.