Coaching Case Study: How active listening brought results

Our client was a high functioning employee working within a small team responsible for scheduling learning and development programmes across a large organisation. The team worked together in close proximity and under a lot of pressure. Our client was very knowledgeable in his field and capable of delivering efficiently against tight deadlines. His employer was concerned, however, that his relationships with some colleagues were not good and it was causing friction in the department.

A 360 degree review had revealed colleagues perceived him as being too direct and that his communications often caused offence. The organisation was concerned that if the situation was not rectified then it could result in an official complaint being made.

Our coaching strategy

As I worked with our client it became clear that whilst his intentions were always to achieve the best result, he was not aware that other people may not share or agree with his views and ways of doing things. His direct style created a ‘one-way communication’ with little chance of feedback.

I remembered an exercise I had been set early in my sales career to help me find out more about my customers; it involved putting into practise Rudyard Kipling’s ‘guide to learning:

‘I kept six honest serving men,

they taught me all I knew.

Their names were What and Where and When

and Why and How and Who’.

I set the client the same exercise to try out, to see what difference it might make.  The exercise was ‘When you are next at work and get into a conversation, each time you speak see if you can respond with an ‘open’ question ; one that includes what, where, when, how or who. (Avoid ‘why’ if possible, it could come across as too demanding or even aggressive if not phrased correctly). I appreciate this doesn’t work when you need to give a direct answer, but try it and see what results you get’.

The result of the exercise

When I next spoke to my client, I asked how he had got on, there was a slight pause and then he asked ‘What was the outcome you were hoping for when you set me this exercise’?

My client had realised that, in order to ask a relevant question, you have to listen to what is being said. By listening more closely to his colleagues and then asking a pertinent, considered question he learned more about them, gained other useful knowledge and, what was most important was that my client’s relationship with his work colleagues was starting to improve.

The outcome

The client realised that by establishing two-way communication with his colleagues he was able to understand that whilst getting results was important there was more than one way of doing things. Gradually, as his relationships with colleagues improved, the friction in the department reduced and people were able to work more harmoniously and achieve more in a less stressful environment.

Research has shown that up to 25% of a manager’s time is lost in dealing with dysfunctional staff issues. Dealing with issues such as this through a coaching intervention is usually a much more cost-effective and time-effective solution than other options.


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