How Business Coaches Use Active Listening to Mentor Employees

By Marty Brounstein

When you coach or mentor employees, know how to be an active listener where you work to draw out the speaker’s message. In a coaching discussion, the real key to effective facilitation is to provide nonjudgmental verbal feedback to check your understanding of the speaker’s message. The focus isn’t on what you think of the other person’s message, but on what the person really means. When you achieve this understanding, you are truly listening.

A passive listener, on the other hand, is how many people engage in listening: He is looking at you, sits quietly, and nods his head every now and then to indicate he has a pulse. Little response or interaction takes place. Passive listeners encourage one-way conversations.

Here are a few active listening tools to help you mentor and tutor during a discussion with a staff member:

  • Paraphrasing: “So what you are saying is . . . .” When paraphrasing, you summarize in one sentence the main idea of the speaker’s message to see whether you understood it correctly.

  • Reflecting feelings: “Sounds like what happened has caused you a good deal of frustration. Is that right?” When emotion, either positive or negative, is prevalent in a message, you can use reflecting feelings to check and show understanding of the emotional meaning in the speaker’s message.

  • Probing: “Tell me more about how that idea might work.” Probing is asking an open-ended question to draw out the speaker’s thoughts, like you do when tutoring with questions, but you’re also probing when you ask a follow-up question to take the message to a greater depth.

When you mentor and tutor employees by asking questions, you’re guiding the flow of the discussion with open-ended questions to reach a positive outcome. To help guide this flow,

  • Periodically explore points to a greater depth (probing).

  • Check to see if you understand what the employee means (by paraphrasing or reflecting feelings and other messages).

When you make these efforts, your active listening allows the staff person to think and sort through thoughts and come up with workable outcomes that he or she can implement. Now that’s coaching!