Are you listening?

06 Dec 2022 | ICG News & Announcements

The ICG’s Carol Raithatha explores something we all think we’re experts in – listening (and not as in ‘I hear what you’re saying’!). She writes:

What is listening about?

Everyone knows how to listen, don’t they? So, what could there to be learn about it? Well, it seems a lot, judging on the plethora of articles and blogs on the subject. Listening is a core skill that can help to lead to success in professional relationships. So, understanding what listening really is and how to be a good listener is key.

Taking a step back: List-en-ing. It’s a strange word when pulled apart. But it seems there is some meaning within … It could be that a good listener:

  • list – notes the key points of what they are hearing
  • en – is engaged with the person in front of them
  • ing – is actively questioning and reflecting

Listening is so important in my professional roles as a consultant, a qualitative researcher, and as a coach/mentor. Here are a few thoughts and experiences about listening in each of those contexts.

Listening as a consultant

Taking the history is the beginning of every consultancy project, so it is vital to understand what the client hopes to achieve, what they have done so far, where they need help, and what they imagine the sticking points might be. The trick is to ask the right questions without being too nosy and steering the conversation to ensure that the points above are covered. It is only by carefully listening and understanding where the client is coming from, that I can reply with a proposal for work that meets their needs.

Listening as a qualitative researcher

As a qualitative researcher my role is to get nosy! Only after I have carefully listened to a participant and can identify their key hopes and concerns on a topic can I ask probing but empathetic questions. It’s normal to feel anxious about getting on with the discussion guide, but key to realise that on the fringes of the planned topics, important things are being said. It’s only with carefully listening and patience that golden insights are uncovered.

Listening as a coach/mentor

Coaching and mentoring are all about listening. Listening then reflecting, challenging, or empathising. It’s all relevant. Empathetic and engaged listening helps to really hear what a coachee or mentee is telling me and to use that to steer them in the direction of developing their own plans for the future and solutions for ongoing dilemmas. The most common feedback I receive from clients in this context, is what they value most about the process is that I have listened to them.

Why listening can be difficult

Listening is a rewarding and useful part of our professional lives, but it can also be difficult. Listening means letting go in the moment and focusing on others. This can leave one feeling unprotected, especially in stressful or competitive environments. Empathetic listening may involve holding back on giving advice or offering solutions to problems. In a world where we are constantly being asked to demonstrate our value, this can feel counterintuitive and risky. I believe that in many situations, we need to start to consider listening as important as doing or saying.

What has listening done for me?

As you can see above – listening is critical in many facets of my professional life. But it also helps keep me grounded and feeling like a part of something bigger. Listening carefully to others gives a platform to experience the world and truly hear what it is saying.

Carol Raithatha is a UK-based research consultant who offers coaching and mentoring services. You can find out more at