Active Listening Techniques

Here are some active listening techniques you can use in your coaching session. When you are coaching it is important that you not only listen to your coachee but also your coachee knows you are really listening to them and knows that you are seeking to understand them.

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Demonstrating active listening techniques

Verbal Listening Techniques

‘Yes’, ‘right’, ‘OK’ ‘ah ha’ etc

These short interjections are great for making unobtrusive signals that you are listening and if used at the right time will not interrupt the coachee’s train of thought 

Reflecting back words, thoughts and feelings

Here you are reflecting back the words, thoughts and feelings of your coachee, subtly emphasising their own words e.g. ‘so, you say you want to make some big changes?’ e.g. ‘you sound as if you are really excited…’

Respond with affirmations

Using affirmations such as ‘it sounds like you handled that well’ or ‘it seems like you’ve made tremendous progress’ is a great way to bolster the self esteem of your coachee and is a great way to keep your coachee with a positive frame of mind whilst really showing you are listening to understand them.

Ask relevant questions

Coaching questions should not be a series of pre-planned questions, instead, intuitively asked based on the coachee’s responses. Your coachee will know you are listening to them when you ask questions that relate to what they have been saying.


Asking clarifying questions is one the more active listening techniques. e.g. ‘you mentioned earlier that your priority was your family, now you have mentioned that your career is the most important thing…which is more of a priority right now?’


Every now and again providing a brief summary of what has been said serves as a useful check that you have heard and understood the coachee correctly

Non-verbal active listening techniques

In face to face coaching sessions your use of appropriate body language also demonstrates that you are listening and especially important when your coachee is in full flow when verbal interruptions by you might hinder.

Eye contact

Whilst you don’t want to stare out your coachee having eye contact shows you are listening. If you are taking notes be sure not to let this stop you from looking at your coachee for the entire session!

Positive facial expressions

Smiling, looks of empathy, etc all naturally responding to your coachee will indicate you are listening. Avoid expressions which might indicate judgment on your behalf such as raised eye-brows or the shaking of your head.


A slight nod of the head is great for showing that have heard and understood your coachee

Body posture

Leaning slightly towards your coachee and an open posture (arms open as opposed to folded) indicate you are open to and interested in what they are saying.

As with any technique they should not be over-used and always used authentically. A final word of warning, if you use active listening techniques whilst not listening your coachee will not be fooled!

Recommended Further Reading:

The Coaching Manual: The Definitive Guide to the Process, Principles and Skills of Personal Coaching by Julie Starr (Paperback - 8 Nov 2007)

See Also:-

Levels Of Listening
Effective Listening Skills
Use of silence
Preparing For Coaching
Effective Questioning
Goal Setting
More Coaching Skills

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