Deep Listening: Create a Sacred & Transformative Space for Your Clients | By Sarah Evans, MCC

Listening is at the heart of who we are and what we do.

In my practice, I have found that having a space to be deeply listened to - and heard - can provide our coachees affirmation; strengthen their self-knowledge; and a deeper connection to their unique way of being and becoming.

My most profound and deep experiences with my coachees have been when I've been compassionately practicing empathetic and generative listening. And these spaces have also been some of the most transformative for my coachees.

"The real art of listening lies in caring, profoundly caring, about what you are being told and about the person who is telling their story. … The art of listening is really the art of being human." Kate Murphy1

When was the last time that you experienced someone listening deeply and profoundly to you? How did you know that this was what you were experiencing? How did you feel? What did this offer for you? What do you believe distinguished this listening from other conversations you have had?

James Flaherty describes deep listening as "not merely the engagement of the ear and the auditory nerve, it's a full engagement of the attention, thought, and intention of the coach in the conversation."2

How we listen will determine what we see and how we inquire.

How do your responses to the questions above reflect this sense of listening, where the listener is fully engaged, attentive, thoughtful, and intentional?

Otto Scharmer3 has identified 4 types of listening:

  1. Downloading (a connection to the past) - listening to confirm what we already know.
  2. Factual (a connection to facts and evidence) - listening to objective facts and to novel or disconfirming data, focusing on what differs from what we already know.
  3. Empathetic (a connection to people and relationships) - a move from the objective world to a deeper listening to the story of a living and evolving self. This requires an open mind AND an open heart to feel what another might be feeling or seeing what another might be seeing. An open heart gives us the empathic capacity to directly connect with another person.
  4. Generative (a connection to something larger than self) - listening from the soul and to the emerging field of future possibility. This level of listening requires us to access our open mind, heart AND open will to act - our capacity to connect to the highest future possibility that can emerge.

Of these four, what type of listening do you routinely operate from? How might you engage in more empathetic or generative listening in your coaching?

4 Practices to Deepen Your Listening

1. Listen with your whole self

  • Pay attention to what you're hearing beyond the words - in your coachee's tone of voice; choice of words, ideas, and concepts; in their body language.
  • Be curious about the unique way your coachee processes their thoughts and feelings.
  • Listen somatically - what messages might your body be sharing with you, and how can you share these with your coachee? Is there a feeling in your belly, a tightness in a muscle, goosebumps on your skin, a shiver down your spine, a racing of your heart, a quickening of your breath etc?
  • Listen to your intuition - what is your 'gut feeling' telling you?
  • Engage in a head, heart, gut check. What is each telling you?

2. Enter your coachee's world of language and meaning

  • Be curious and inquire about your coachees' definitions and meanings of the words and concepts they use, rather than assuming you know.
  • Listen for underlying patterns of thoughts, values and beliefs.

3. Create spaciousness in your listening

  • Pianist Alfred Brendel notes that the word "'listen' contains the same letters as the word 'silent'."
  • Practice using silence to refrain from interrupting, talking over, or being in your head formulating your next brilliant question.
  • To find stillness, quiet your internal chatter and fragmented attention. It is from this place that you can listen more deeply - listen for what is in the silence.

4. Fully connect with your coachee

  • A powerful way to connect with a coachee is to just listen - intently and intentionally.
  • Believe in your coachee.


"Our relationship lives in the space between us which is sacred." Martin Buber

Deep listening allows us to compassionately join with our coachees in co-creating spaces where transformation is possible.

Imagine what it would be like for you to create this experience for your coachees by listening deeply on a consistent basis. What might this require of you?

1 Kate Murphy, author of "You're not listening: What you're missing and why it matters" being interviewed in The Guardian by Steven Moss in his article "How to be a good listener: My mission to learn the most important skill of all." January 20, 2020.
2 James Flaherty, (2010). Coaching: Evoking Excellence in Others. 3rd ed. Burlington, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann. p. 46.
3 C. Otto Scharmer, (2008). Uncovering the blindspot of leadership. Leader to Leader, 47 (Winter). pp. 52-59.

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Sarah Evans, MCC Guest Author

Contributing Author:

Dr. Sarah Evans, PhD, MCC, Dip. CS is passionate about working with visionary decision-makers and influencers inspired by the transformative potential of coaching. She is an executive leadership & team coach, facilitator, OD consultant, coaching supervisor, and mentor coach at Evans Leadership Group. Sarah is dedicated to cultivating resilient leaders—supporting individuals, teams, organizations and coaches lead and thrive in complexity. Her goal is to maximize human capacity, organizational capabilities, and contributions to societal well-being. Her key working themes are relationships, resilience, results! Visit her website here and connect with her on Linkedin. Sarah is a member of the International Coach Federation, where she holds a Master Certified Coach (MCC) credential.

Learn more about Sarah & see all their articles here >>

Image of Coach listening deeply to client by stockfour via Shutterstock


  1. Vincent Perri

    Hi, Beautiful work. Please look at "The Healing Space" and The Healing Spirit" for more on this important topic.
    Vincent L. Perri

      • Vincent L. Perri

        Hi Mary,
        My books The Healing Space and The Healing Spirit attempt to bring the work of Martin Buber, Abraham Joshua Heschel and Carl Jung to the life coach and psychotherapist. I gave a lecture on this topic at the University of Tel Aviv this summer. Stay well, Vincent L. Perri

    • Sarah Evans

      Thank you Vincent! I am struck by your words of "healing space" as a "bridge that creates a vibrational link between me and my client." A profound framing of the coaching relationship.

  2. Sharon

    Listening with our heart is the key factor in being an effective Coach, establishing rapport and truly understanding our Client's needs.
    Thank you for sharing! I wasn't aware of these four listening categories.

    • Sarah Evans

      Thank you Sharon! I appreciate your comment. Just imagine every relationship, conversation at a time - where listening with our heart was the norm!

  3. Aaron Jarrels

    Thanks for the insightful information. I especially enjoyed the four types of listening section of the article. It has been a while since I thought about the type of listening I am doing or receiving. Thanks for the great reminder.

    • Emma-Louise

      Dear Aaron, It's always great to have reminders and refreshers for our coaching skills - and listening is such an important coaching skill! 🙂 Warmly, Emma-Louise


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