Mining for Diamonds: How Powerful Listening Brings Out the Best in Others

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I’ve been working in the diamond mines.

Well, OK, not literally – and, uh, I’ve got the biceps to prove it.

But in a sense I have been, because when you coach someone, you’re helping them mine for the diamonds within themselves – big ideas, best practices, solutions to problems, paths forward, ways out of difficulties.

You could write books on coaching techniques, but it all begins with listening. As my friend Fred Harburg puts it, “Coaching is powerful listening.”

Powerful Listening Helps Bring Out People’s Best Ideas

Share your wisdom, but know that people grow the most when you draw out their brilliance. So ask questions and listen.

Let’s say you’re coaching people who wants to be more consistent in their performance:

  1. Focus on they do well. Have them tell you stories about their successes.
  2. Ask if they mind that you take notes.
  3. Prompt them to walk through examples of when they were on top of their game. Go step by step.
  4. Drill down in the spots where they skip important details (e.g., “You just told me you got in to see the decision maker. How’d you get past the gatekeeper?”)
  5. Repeat what they’ve been telling you. (“OK, so you meet with the rep prior to the sales call, you create a plan of action, then you roleplay how you’ll begin the pitch. Am I capturing it all?”)
  6. Ask for more examples to fill in the details.
  7. Initially, performers often tell me what they think they should say. But if you keep prompting them – and listening – you might detect hints of passion. Seize on this. (“You sound excited about that. Tell me more.”)
  8. Don’t stop with what they’ve been doing. Ask how they might change things going forward. (“What could you improve the next time?”)
  9. After they’ve exhausted the positive, talk about the tough times. What’s different about those situations? Try to isolate what throws the performer off.
  10. Map out the process/solution together.
  11. Afterwards, send them your notes.
  12. Don’t be surprised when they take what you’ve captured and add to it.


Listening to others is like helping them mine for diamonds (Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)

Powerful Listening Helps Others to Appreciate their Talents

Whenever people read the notes I’ve taken during a coaching session, they’re almost always impressed – with themselves. “Did I really say all that?”

“Yes,” I say. “Yes, you did.”

While we may be aware of what we do well, we often don’t fully realize how we go about doing it. Coaches can help bring clarity by asking good questions and then listening carefully. The more conscious people are of their performance, the better they’ll feel about themselves.

The Power of Listening

I love how Tim Sanders describes “business love” in his wonderful book, Love Is the Killer App. Listening is a key part of expressing this kind of love.

So many of our conversations are mechanical. We move through a set of points we have to accomplish and then we race for the water cooler, the plane, or the TV. Instead, be a warm person: Listen, aspire, help—do all the things a machine can’t do.

For me, it’s about working in the diamond mine. Sometimes I see myself at the bottom of a shaft, holding a lamp as a miner hacks away at the stone with a pick. I try to encourage the miner, but mostly I just shine the light where it’s most helpful. From time to time, I set it down so that I can take the pick while the miner rests.

At last we uncover something that looks promising. I reach for it, show it to the miner. She smiles. Looks like it could be of value. I pull out a rag, polish the stone, and hand it over.

“That’s it!”

The performer finds the diamonds. The coach is the listener.

2 Responses

  1. Jani
    | Reply

    Excellent discussion of both the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of effective listening. Thank you, Lance!

    • Lance
      | Reply

      Thanks, Jani!

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