How to Listen

I used to think I was a good listener – however after spending a year studying a counselling qualification I soon realised I was in fact a bad listener!  My brain was far too busy formulating my response and I was eager to say my piece – I was not 100% being there for the other person and REALLY listening.

20 years later I am now a business mentor and have been reflecting back on how the counselling approach has helped me to listen to my client.

Whatever business you are in, being able to listen to clients needs is a key skill.


So, let me take you back to some of the counselling theory…..

[i]The counselling approach I trained in is called the CLIENT CENTRED approach.   It was developed by psychologist Carl Rogers who believed ‘therapy’ should be simpler, warmer and more optimistic than that carried out by psychologists.

As the quote on the right shows he believed the client is equipped with all the resources to succeed,  but may need help in guiding these in the right direction.   Just as a mentor does…..

He also calls refers to clients and not patients as he sees the therapist and client as equal partners rather than as an expert treating a patient.   Again, when I am mentoring clients it is very much an equal relationship.



His theory is based around three core conditions:


This means being genuine and authentic and presenting your true self to your client.  Do not try to be something or somebody you are not as the client will see straight through you.  Be open and honest and allow your true personality to shine through.  After all, people do business with people.


For clients to grow and fulfil their potential it is important that they are valued as themselves.   You should care about your client and their business.   You may not always approve of their actions but you accept them.  It is about being non-judgemental and always having a positive attitude.


This is where great listening helps.  It is the ability to understand sensitively and accurately the client’s experience and feelings.   You should  demonstrate that you understand through phrases such as “What I am hearing you say is…..”.   Also, being empathic could mean understanding what a client is NOT saying – sometimes the words not being spoken are equally as powerful.


Now we know the theory and the core conditions at the centre of the practice, let’s look at how to build these into our mentoring sessions.

1.Set clear boundaries

Both parties should be clear on the format, number of sessions and length of each one.  You may also want to discuss and agree what topics of conversation are allowed and which may be deemed ‘out of scope’.

2.The client knows best

The client is the expert on his/her own difficulties. It’s better to let the client explain what is wrong. Don’t fall into the trap of telling them what their problem or issue is or how they should solve it.

3.Act as a sounding board

One useful technique is to listen carefully to what the client is saying and then try to explain to him/her what you think he/she is telling you in your own words. This can not only help you clarify the client’s point of view, it can also help the client understand his/her feelings better and begin to look for a constructive way forward.

4.Don’t be judgmental

This is back to showing unconditional positive regard.  Some clients may feel that their personal problems mean that they fall short of the ‘ideal’. They may need to feel reassured that they will be accepted for the person that they are and not face rejection or disapproval.

5.Don’t make decisions for them

Remember advice is a dangerous gift. Also, some clients will not want to take responsibility for making their own decisions. They may need to be reminded that nobody else can or should be allowed to choose for them. Of course, you can still help them explore the consequences of the options open to them.

6.Concentrate on what they are really saying

Sometimes this will not be clear at the outset. Often a client will not tell you what is really bothering him/her until he/she feels sure of you. Listen carefully – the problem you are initially presented with may not be the real problem at all.  And from my experience this is the case more often than not.

7. Be genuine

This is linked to showing congruence.  If you simply present yourself in your official role the client is unlikely to want to reveal personal details about themselves. This may mean disclosing things about yourself – not necessarily facts, but feelings as well. Don’t be afraid to do this – bearing in mind that you are under no obligation to disclose anything you do not want to.

8. Accept negative emotions

Some clients may have negative feelings about themselves, their family or even you. Try to work through any negativity without taking offense, but do not put up with personal abuse.

9.How you speak can be more important than what you say

It is possible to convey a great deal through your tone of voice. Often it will be found helpful to slow down the pace of the conversation. Short pauses where the client (and you) have time to reflect on the direction of the session can also be useful.  Silence can be powerful!

10. I may not be the best person to help

Knowing yourself and your own limitations can be just as important as understanding the client’s point of view. No mentor succeeds all the time. Sometimes you will be able to help but you will never know. Remember the purpose of the session is not to make you feel good about yourself.

To find out more about business mentoring please contact me:

Tel:  07702 617908




[i] Carl R. Rogers. Way of Being. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980, p.115-117