Purposeful Listening: Spiritual Coaching Techniques for Career Development Practitioners

by Gail Liebhaber, M.Ed.

People come to see a career development professional for many reasons. My clients often are people who are not getting along well with a boss or who feel underutilized or unfulfilled in their present job. They contact me with the hope that I can aid them in their search for a better work environment that supports their job growth. Others call in total frustration, not knowing "what they want to be when they grow up," even though they may be 43! They may have seen career counselors at their college or taken a course at the local adult education center, but they're hoping that this will finally be the time that career counseling "works."

Still others have a strong sense of their career goals but need assistance with a resume, salary negotiation, or a targeted strategy for their job search. I welcome these calls and duly market my services, responding to questions by drawing on my years of experience, my philosophy of encouraging clients to bring their whole self to the session (including barriers or personal issues that are impacting their decision-making), and my passion for supporting people in their transition.

Once they find their way to my office I am ready to use my career counseling expertise and education to look for the underlying issues, assess the problems and then, voila! solve their quandary! But all too often, it is not that simple -- people remained stuck, unfocused, or unable to fully make use of our sessions together.

I started wondering if there was something more that I could do or that we could do together which would enable them to move forward. Purposeful Listening is an approach that I have developed which invites people to access their whole self, enabling them to develop a deeper connection to their career potential. A new career counseling process focusing on listening can offer the kind of support pictured so sublimely by the Chinese sign for listening. Notice that "listening" involves giving undivided attention to someone with your eyes, ears, and heart. This is total, purposeful listening. Think of purposeful listening as an additional tool for you to use with any client whom you feel would benefit from being heard in a deep way, someone who would be open to learning new techniques for listening to their whole selves-- mind, body, soul and heart.

Listening with a third ear

To truly connect with your clients you must activate your heart as well as your mind. While the mind needs proof, facts, reasons and goals the heart seems to thrive on passion, acts of faith and trusting relationships. When I am counseling a client, I will consciously drop my awareness from concentrating on their words down into my chest -- essentially envisioning my heart listening to their heart. This often has the palpable result of helping my client go deeper into their own understanding and reach "aha" moments, where they connect with underlying patterns and take some steps to overcome them. Sometimes I will even take a deep breath, barely audible to my client. But that simple act can bring startling outcomes. One example of my taking a moment to slow down happened recently with a client seeking a career transition. Suzie (a pseudonym), a client that I had been seeing for several sessions, was once-again caught up in philosophizing by quoting a variety of mystics and prophets whom she had studied in college. It was interesting to hear her thoughts but I sensed that she was skirting a really important issue by intellectualizing. I started to "listen" from my heart and she soon sensed my new silence. She paused to look out of the window and changed the direction of her conversation, midstream. I had attempted at other times in our counseling sessions to point out how she used long, vague and unclear sentences as an avoidance to key issues. The space that we created enabled her to hear my comments clearly. We proceeded to explore her old patterns of ignoring her wishes for creating some independence in her work life.

I have developed a booklet (available through my web site at www.yourcareerdirection.com) which can take you through the five steps of Purposeful Listening.








Gail Liebhaber, M.Ed., is a career consultant in Massachusetts. Her booklet is available on her website at www.yourcareerdirection.com. She can be reached via email at gliebhaber@rcn.com.

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