Coert Visser is a Dutch solution-focused trainer and coach who has substantial experience in being a professional listener. I know Coert from his books and his prolific writing on several blogs and forums about solution-focused coaching.
What means listening to you, in your personal life?
Listening is quite important for me. First of all, I love music. Every day I enjoy listening to music and it would be hard for me to imagine not being able to do so.
But listening is important in other ways too, of course. Listening to what people actually say has tremendous advantages. Often, there is a lot of automaticity in how we perceive things. Our deliberate attention is usually rather low when we listen, for instance. The advantage of this is it is efficient. The disadvantage is it may lead to a bit skewed picture of reality. Also, when people notice you’re are listening inattentively, it can offend them or disappoint them. Although it is undoable to always listen with great attention it can worthwhile do so sometimes. In important conversations, it can help you figure out what the other person really means. Also, it helps the other person to feel taken seriously. So, there is a content advantage and a relationship advantage.
“The way Insoo Kim Berg listened was admirable always making it clear for clients that what they said was respected and accepted.” (Coert Visser)
In addition to this, listening can be a nice mindfulness exercise. It can be very calming to just concentrate on what sounds you can hear. This works well especially when it is rather silent.
What means listening to you in your professional life?
Listening is one of the central skills I use in my profession. I am a solution-focused trainer and coach. The solution-focused approach is a very client centered approach to coaching. How the client perceives reality plays a key role in the process of coaching. Therefore, listening to what the client precisely says is essential. Attentive listening is indispensable in solution-focused coaching.
Where/when did you learn to listen?
Maybe I have always listened attentively to some extend. However, I remember that I once read a book, I think its title was ‘Active Listening’, many many years ago. This helped me to become even more aware of the importance of listening.
What great listener inspires/inspired you?
Today (10 January 2010, HC) is the third anniversary of the death of Insoo Kim Berg. She was one of the main contributors to the development of the solution-focused approach. She inspired me in many ways and also when it comes to listening. What I admired in Insoo’s way of listening was what she listened for. She was very good at detecting signs of hope and small examples of improvement in what her clients said. Also, the way she listened was admirable always making it clear for clients that what they said was respected and accepted.
Can you recall a moment in your life where listening made a significant difference?
That’s a hard one… I cannot really think of one specific example. But I guess in many important conversations, sometimes a bit challenging conversations, listening well often made the difference between escalation of disagreements and getting closer to each other.
How do you believe we can teach ourselves to listen?
Listening is a skill which you can learn like almost anything. How do we build skills? The answer is simple: through practice. Not any kind of practice, deliberate practice. This means deliberately practicing your listening skills, for instance in a coaching situation.
Just as important as attentively concentrating on the process of listening is that you get feedback. In coaching conversation you can just ask clients whether you have understood well what they meant, which is useful feedback. But you also practice listening in training situations. When we train coaches in the solution-focused approach we invite them to listen to parts of coaching conversations with clients and then ask them to write down what they clients have actually said. Comparing notes like this can be really useful practice.
Who should I visit next?
Paolo Terni. He is full of original ideas and I am curious what he has to say about listening.
Did you like this interview?
- You can follow Coert on Twitter @Doingwhatworks
- Coert’s main blog: Solution Focused Change – Doing What Works
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Do you know other powerful listeners I should interview? Let me know.