Listening to learn

“We should all know this: that listening, not talking, is the gifted and great role, and the imaginative role. And the true listener is much more believed, magnetic than the talker, and he is more effective and learns more and does more good.” — Brenda Ueland

All the knowledge in the world…

Often, we conflate knowing all about a subject with being effective at putting that knowledge to use. Put another way, storing information about a topic is distinctly different than being skillful at said topic. As someone in the fitness field, it’s easy to get so focused on the science, the latest research, programming methodologies, aka what we KNOW that it’s easy to loose track of the most important piece of the puzzle…people. More specifically, connecting with and listening to people. Only through attentive listening can we truly know our client, their needs, fears, goals, what motivates them, etc.

In his book Active Listening, Michael Hoppe walks the reader through the six phases of successful active listening. Below is his 6 rules along with some tools and ideas to assist you in implementing them.

Pay Attention

  1. Be focused on the present moment and on being with the other person in that moment.
  2. Pay attention to the other’s body language and to your own, are you postured in a way that seems defensive or that invites the other party to share what they’re thinking? Are they fidgety and uncomfortable looking, or are they relaxed?
  3. Conversation isn’t just about what is being said it’s about how it’s being said too. Tone and inflection can give you insight into how a person feels about the subject matter, and about how the conversation is going in general.
  4. Use non verbal responses; make eye contact, nod, smile, etc to communicate you are listening.

Suspend Judgement

  1. Be empathetic. Websters defines empathy as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.” Just because you may feel or think a certain way doesn’t mean that your conversation partner does or should think that way too. In other words, try to meet them where they’re at.
  2. Be patient and gentle. Some things are difficult to talk about or may require more thought on the part of the other person. Be comfortable sitting in silence and let the other person have time to think and respond without making them feel rushed or judged.


  1. By rephrasing and repeating what your conversation partner is saying to you, you can make it known that you have really heard them. A simple “Just to clarify that I understand…you said ‘XYZ’…is this correct? or a “what I’m hearing is…’what they said’….am I understanding you?” can allow the other person to make clear what they said in case you misunderstood, AND it signals to them that you’re invested and truly listening.
  2. You can also “rephrase” their feelings back to them through asking open ended questions such as “it sounds like you have trepidation about XYZ” or “you seem to really enjoy when…”


  1. ASK QUESTIONS, by inquiring about the other person we invite them to share what they are truly feeling and thinking in a detailed and clear manner. By asking open ended questions, questions aimed at clarifying something unclear, and investigative questions directed at diving more deeply we signal to the other person that we care and we want to know what they have to say.


  1. At the end of your conversation, it’s often a good idea to “repeat” or summarize a brief outline of the things you’ve discussed and the conclusions you’ve come to. This makes sure you end the conversation on the same page, and gives you an assured mutual place of understanding moving forward.


  1. Lastly, sometimes it’s appropriate to share your thoughts or your common experiences related to what the other person has told you. This part can be tricky as it can landslide into an excuse for us to direct the conversation to being all about ourselves. However, if you can avoid stealing the spotlight while sharing bits about yourself too, sharing can be a way to be vulnerable with the other party in order to gain trust and build rapport.

In conclusion, listening is an important skill not only for coaches and trainers, but for everyone. Listening and being attentive to the people and the world around us is how we become and stay connected. Now that you know, how you do plan on listening and being more attentive?


Hoppe, Michael. Active Listening: Improve Your Ability to Listen and Lead, Center for Creative Leadership, 2007. ProQuest Ebook Central,

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