06/14/2011 01:19 pm ET Updated Aug 10, 2011

2 Ways to Listen to Your Coach

So far I've listed 5 Signs They're Probably NOT a Coach and 5 Tips for Hiring a Coach; now I'll get to working successfully with a coach.

Taking the bull by the horns here, I'll tell you how most people listen: they listen and judge, they listen for agreement or disagreement, they listen for facts that support their stance, they listen for something to 'grab onto' and use as argument, they listen for proof they're right . . . There are, of course, more styles of listening but you may have already recognized yourself here. In fact, stop for a moment in your reading and think about how you just read the items in that series: were you adopting any of those 'listening poses' as you read?

So why do we listen with our engines revved, getting ready to respond before the other person has finished talking or, if you're a bit more patient, as soon as they finish speaking? We do it because that's what's worked for us in similar situations in the past. But if you bring a coach into your organization and then listen to them as you've been listening to everyone else in your life you're making the coaches job a lot harder, and it may be costing you time and money. If you read on I'll try and save you a little of both.

1. Listen as if everything they say is true. Let's be clear here, I'm not saying listen and blindly obey, I'm saying "as if." I recently had occasion to tell a key employee that they had gotten lazy and therefore their job was at risk. "Everyone needs to grow and learn," he said, "But I don't think I've gotten lazy."

Think about it: Would the owner of the company be sitting there at an off site meeting with this employee and me, a paid consultant, telling a key employee that they needed to grow and learn? No. The best option this employee could take here is to act '"as if" every word I was saying was true. That their salary had far outpaced their results, that the problem had come to a serious level, and that they were not showing skills or abilities needed to be part of the new strategy we were developing unless they took radical corrective measures. Taking home my lazy assessment, as if it were true, to mull over and consider what steps to take and how this could have happened was the best, most active and empowering position they could take.

The same goes for the owner of a company who hires a coach and who doesn't try on a new listening when working with the coach. This relationship works when a coach can say what they see, give straight and honest feedback, and create a relationship where they are open to hearing what this fresh set of eyes has to see. If you've done your job right in selecting a coach this is not as risky as it might sound.

2. Listen like it's some other person or someone else's business you're talking about. I usually don't like to bring in "spiritual" books too often in my business coaching but I think most businesses could self-correct any issues or challenges if they'd adopt The Four Agreements contained in Don Miguel Ruiz's book of the same title. With due respect to Ruiz, they can be paraphrased as, 1. Be in integrity with your word, 2. Do your best, 3. Don't assume and, the biggie, 4. Don't take anything personally.

Too often people see a problem with their performance or a breakdown in their company as a kind of fault or shortcoming of their own: they take it personally. They immediately get defensive or apologetic, as if it's something they can dismiss or correct by 'being a better person'. The truth is somewhere in between the personal and the situational, and if we've never failed then we're probably not risking enough and that would be boring.

Listening to feedback from a neutral stance, to remove yourself from your personal reaction and ingrained defense mechanisms, can help you see the source of the problem or challenge with greater clarity. Sometimes I realize I've been called in to tell people what they already know, but have been afraid to face on their own; my telling them what I'm seeing is their way of 'stepping outside' of the situation.

Of course there's a third way of listening in which you just pay a coach to give feedback and don't really take action, you make excuses, give reasons for it not being the right time, blame others or the economy but, if you're reading this, I hope you've already gotten over that and are willing to apply the right tool to the job; a seasoned coach with your best interest as their primary goal.

As always, I welcome your feedback and encourage you to share experiences you've had personally that relate to the topic.