Beyond Active Listening: A New Coaching Technique | "Heart to Heart" with Julie Johnson MCC

Coach on Coaching Call with Grumpy Manager

In this column "Heart to Heart with Julie", Julie Johnson MCC shares sample coaching conversations and situations to help us grow. These are real coaching experiences that illustrate common issues we face as coaches, and Julie also shares her learning, ideas and practical tips to help you become a better coach.

Please share your thoughts, takeaways and your own experiences in the comments below!

These articles were first posted on Julie's blog, The Coaching Cube, and have been updated for inclusion here.

In this article Julie offers us a specific technique to become an even better coach and grow our coaching skills!

Beyond Active Listening: Take Your Coaching to the Next Level!

We all love it when we're in flow. Imagine having an important conversation with a client and they're sharing things that matter to them. You're 100% focused on what they're saying, how they're saying it, what they're not saying, their body language—and their tone.

You're actively listening and attuned.

Here's an interesting and powerful technique to grow your clients: your reactions to your client.

Let me tell you a story

A few years ago, I had an initial telephone call with a senior manager who was a potential coachee at a new client company. I vaguely remembered having been told several weeks before that he'd recently been promoted to quite a senior position. Although I confess that that information was not top-of-mind when we began our call...

Here's what happened

  • Our conversation began and he started speaking quite fast.
  • He seemed mildly annoyed when I asked whether he was using his speaker phone, explaining that he wasn't coming through clearly.
  • He turned it off and snapped, "Is that better?" (it was).
  • We continued, and a bit later, I asked him if he would repeat a list of three points he was making: "A bit slower please" I said, because I hadn't caught them.
  • He took a breath and did.
  • I knew I was struggling with the quality of the phoneline, his fast speech, and the fact that he spoke English with an accent unfamiliar to me.
  • And I also began to notice that his rapid speech and (apparent) annoyance with my request to repeat himself had led me to wonder whether he was rather junior.
  • And then I glanced at my notes from a few weeks earlier and remembered he was actually quite senior. In fact he had even shared that one of his goals was to develop a senior management sort of "gravitas".
  • Now this was interesting!

Well, as it happened, we soon entered into a coaching relationship. And a few sessions later I had the opportunity to share those moments from our initial call with him in their entirety.

  • He listened closely.
  • I then asked him what he thought the impact on me was of "how" his communication had been.
  • After he responded I shared that, in fact, I had been thinking that he must be "rather junior".
  • I could have cut a knife through the silence.

This feedback ended up being an important piece of "evidence" of how he was behaving in the workplace. Because it allowed him to "see" the resulting perceptions of those around him.

And as a result, he was able to replace ineffective old behaviors with effective new ones.

Here's my take

By listening to our coachees—and at the same time turning some of our attention to how we experience them—we coaches can use ourselves as a tool for our coachees' benefit.

Now it's your turn

You know how to actively listen. So to take your coaching to the next level, remember this technique of noticing your reactions to your coachee.

Simply find them interesting.

Then without judgement, ponder what's happening between the two of you that makes you react the way you are.

And when you somehow 'know' this might be useful information that could serve your client, then that's the time to (carefully, with permission and without judgement!) share to enhance your client's growth.

So, what do you think? Share your thoughts with Julie in the comments below.

If you liked this "Heart to Heart" column from Julie Johnson, you may also like:

Julie Johnson

Contributing Author:

Julie Johnson MCC, MIM is an Executive Coach, Coach Supervisor and Author. Her purpose is to help motivated people be at their best. She's passionate about spreading quality coaching conversations farther and wider, impacting the lives of people she'll never meet. Julie helps leaders develop an authentic Coaching Leadership Style so they grow next-generation leaders - and scale their own leadership. She also loves creating synergies by connecting 'the right people' with each other. Meet Julie in this short video here and learn more about her on her website here. You can also sign up for her monthly blog The Coaching Cube.

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

Image of Coach on Coaching Call by Agenturfotografin via Shutterstock

Image of Grumpy Manager by ViDI Studio via Shutterstock


  1. Paola Rivera

    I had a similar experience with a Coachee and I am still building the coaching relation. I will definitely share my first impression of him when the time is right, my feeling could be the same of those direct reports of him.
    Thanks for your advice

    • Julie Johnson

      I totally agree with you regarding timing, Paola! I've often waited until 2 or 3 sessions later to share - once the relationship is more developed and the topic at hand connects to the feedback being offered. I figure that if the feedback is in service of the coachee, then it can be worth offering. Good luck with that!

  2. Paul Birch

    Thank you, Julie.
    I have used this technique many times with the same impact.
    Actually, noy I use the Enneagram Pro which has a section at the end that is powerful called, "How you may be showing up in your coaching sessions. An age-old powerful approach if you get it right.
    If not it's like a hand grenade going off but I love the way, you phrased it to reduce that possibility. However, there is usefulness in the Han grenade moment too. Providing you do not become defensive and just use the power of a brief pause. Then reflect on what just happened. Love the work you all do at The Coaching Tool Company. Keep up the great work. Much love Paul

    • Julie Johnson

      Hi Paul - Yes, talk about arriving fully present - so much so that we are in tune with our experience being with the coachee. This opens a whole new avenue, doesn't it! You are welcome for the articles - I've been writing since 2014. Interestingly, I've discovered that the act of doing so really helps me clarify my philosophy and develop a number of tools and techniques - which I think wouldn't have happened to this degree had I not been writing. I'm thrilled that you find these so useful! All the best - Julie

  3. Mena

    I found this article to be of great value and excellent advice. I am sometimes unsure how to share my observations and feelings of those observations with the client. Perhaps due to fear of losing the client. However, this technique demonstrates to me how valuable that could be for a client.
    Thank you very much Julie.

    • Julie Johnson

      Dear Mena - I am thrilled to read your response - thank you for sharing! Just knowing that this can be made use of makes writing it up all worthwhile. You might also like reading up on Co-Active's three-layer model of listening, as the third level does include this, in its own way. If you would like any more readings on listening that I've written in the past, just let me know. Good luck with applying this! - Julie

  4. Jeff Kincaid

    Taking good notes allowed you to refer to them and implement your listening lesson. Thanks for the reminder of how important it is to take very good notes during our sessions, so we can use that information in the moment.

    • Julie Johnson

      Hi Jeff - It's so true. The last thing I want to have happen is that I get their history mixed up with that of someone else (aka: "Are you the guy who was having nightmares about your boss?" or something stupid like that HaHa! I'll often take notes of non-verbals, etc. Anyway, we carry on! - Julie


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