In 1989 Covey wrote “The 7 habits of highly effective people” with the fifth habit being “seek first to understand and then to be understood”, or listen and then speak, explaining that people often do not listen in a conversation, instead rush to talk, and give advice. The coach’s ability to effectively listen and question is essential, Frode & Andre (2012) identify “the importance of asking the right questions and the ability to listen deeply to what the client is saying” is key to coaching. With Passmore (2011) building that “the core skills in coaching are open questions, active listening, summary and basic reflection”. Though his research Passmore (2011) established five levels of listening, stating that “competent coaches should be aiming to listen at level 3 or 4, with excellent coaches occasionally working in an interpretive level”.

Five Levels of Listening – Passmore (2011)

Level 1: Waiting to Speak – at this level we are simply waiting for our turn to talk.

Level 2: Basic Listening – at this level the listener focuses on the words being said,

Level 3: Attentive Listening – at this level the listener focuses on the words and tone of the communication to understand the true meaning.

Level 4: Active Listening – at this level the listener listens to the words, tone and body language of the speaker and is aiming to understand what the speaker is intending to communicate.

Level 5:  Interpretive Listening – at this level the listener is seeking to move beyond the intended communication, they are interperating meaning from the whole communication both intended meaning and unitended communications

In her research paper, Berry (2019) established that “one of the most important items in a coaches toolbox is what is come to be known as active listening”. This involves all the senses, full awareness, and the ability to use questions and silence, to truly understand your client. Denis (2008) expanded the definition stating that “active listening involves observing both the client and one-self” identifying that “active listening is about taking in all that is being offered by the client as well as full awareness of the impact of one’s own (the coach’s) mindset, filters, thoughts and reactions”.

Passmore (2016) observes that an effective coach uses a few techniques to help their clients these include, questioning, clarifying, summarizing, and reflecting. Passmore (2016) however states that “the coach’s skill is in listening and selecting the right word or words to reflect back, to the client, which capture the heart of their message”. As such I believe that listening and questioning are inter-twined and rely on Shapiro’s (2014) “attention, intention and attitude” of the coach building their awareness and developing empathy with the client, creating a safe and open coaching environment.

For more information contact


Berry, S. (2019). Research Paper: I hear You: Active Listening in Coaching.

Covey, S. (2000). Living the 7 Habits, The Courage to Change. New York: Fireside.

Denis, D. (2008). Essential Coaching (MSc). University of Pennsylvania.

Frode, M., & Andre, R. (2012). The Effect from Coaching-Based Leadership. Journal of Education and Learning, 1(2), 1-7.

Passmore, J. (2016). Excellence in Coaching. London: Kogan Page.

Pelham, G. (2016). The Coaching Relationship in Practice, London: Sage.

Shapiro, S. (2014). Mindful Discipline. Presentation, Talks at Google.

Wilson, C. (2020). The Five Levels of Listening. Retrieved 10 May 2021, from

Woodcock, C. (2010). The listening Guide for coaching: exploring qualitative, relational, voice-centred, evidence-based methodology for coaches. An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 3(2)