The Coaching Experience: Listening with Empathy

This quarter, as part of my journey through Seattle Pacific University’s Digital Education Leadership program, we are investigating ISTE coaching standards. For this blog post I will be focusing my research on ISTE coaching standards 1 and 2: Visionary Leadership and Teaching, Learning, and Assessment.

ISTE Coaching Standard 1: Visionary LeadershipTechnology Coaches inspire and participate in the development and implementation of a shared vision for the comprehensive integration of technology to promote excellence and support transformational change throughout the instructional environment.

Indicator: d. Implement strategies for initiating and sustaining technology innovations and manage the change process in schools and classrooms

ISTE Coaching Standard 2: Teaching, Learning, and Assessment- Technology Coaches assist teachers in using technology effectively for assessing student learning, differentiating instruction, and providing rigorous, relevant, and engaging learning experiences for all students.

Indicator: f. Coach teachers in and model incorporation of research-based best practices in instructional design when planning technology-enhanced learning experiences


In my last blog post I learned a lot about how important it is to develop a trusting relationship with your coachee. In this blog post I wanted to research more on collaborative norms such as questioning and listening, but felt overwhelmed with the amount of information I found. I decided that it wouldn’t be fair for me to simply sum up a variety of strategies and information, as much as it would be to give an in-depth view into one of the collaborative norms: Listening. I decided to narrow down my research and possibly save some of the information I gathered for future blog posts and focus this blog post on the importance behind listening and the role Empathy plays within in.

Listening with Empathy

When researching the key words collaborative norms and listening, I found many references to phrases like listening respectfully and/or active listening. I have heard both of these terms before and felt like I wasn’t learning anything new as much as I was being reminded to be respectful and give my attention to the person speaking, which are great reminders but not exactly what I was hoping to share within this blog post. However, when I dug deeper I found some interesting material on the impact Empathy has in a conversation and how it can change the way you listen to others. In one of my resources written by Jim Knight he emphasizes that, “so much of communication depends on understanding others.” (Knight, 2016) Jim goes on to say, “When we demonstrate empathy, we see beyond our stereotypes and stop seeing people as objects. Instead, we start to see others as the unique subjects they are.” (knight, 2016)

Components of Empathy

Jim also references the book, Empathy: Why It Matters, and How to Get It written by Roman Krznaric in 2014 which categorizes two main components of Empathy. (Knight, 2016)

Component One

Affective empathy: is about sharing or mirroring another person’s emotions. (Krznaric, 2014)

Example: “If I saw my daughter crying in anguish, then I too might have the feeling of anguish. ” (Krznaric, 2014)

Component Two

Cognitive empathy: involves making an imaginative leap and recognizing that other people have different tastes, experiences, and world views than our own. (Krznaric, 2014)

Example: “A child chooses to comfort their crying brother or sister with his/her favorite toy instead of their own knowing they would be happier with the one they like the best. ” (Krznaric, 2014)

Demonstrating Empathy

In a coaching conversation it is important to remember that you are building a relationship with the coachee and are there to help them however they feel they need to be helped. During the time you will have together, trust will need to be an essential component of the relationship and showing empathy towards your coachee for what he/she has to share is essential to a successful coaching experience. Jim Knight suggests thinking about what your coachee or conversation partner is thinking and feeling about the topic being discussed even before asking a probing question within the conversation. (Knight, 2016) He also provides the following three ways on how to get better at demonstrating empathy:

Look Back

When we Look Back, we consider interactions we’ve had with people learn from them so we can be more effective in the future. (Knight, 2016)

Look At

When we Look At, we consider interactions we are having or observing. We might keep a log of times we demonstrate empathy, for example, or take notes on the ways others do or do not demonstrate empathy. (Knight, 2016)

Looking Ahead

Looking Ahead is making plans for how we will interact in the future. When we Look Ahead to demonstrate empathy, we consider our own thoughts and feelings and the thoughts and feelings of others. (Knight, 2016)

Listening Strategies

After gaining so much new knowledge on Empathy and the impact it has on a conversation, I wanted to know what types of listening strategies would work alongside it. Jim provides the four strategies on developing effective listening skills:

Commit to listen.

When we commit to listening, we enter into conversations determined to let the other person speak, and this means we don’t fill up the conversation with our own words. (Knight, 2016)

Make sure your partner is the speaker.

Good listeners give others plenty of opportunity to speak. For that reason, you should teach yourself to ask, “Am I the listener or am I the speaker?” If you find that you are always the speaker, work on taking on the alternate role. (Knight, 2016)

Pause before you speak and ask, “Will my comment open up or close down this conversation?”

Careless words in response to what someone says can negate another person’s comment and create the same impact as not listening at all. If my comments shut down my partner, then I should find another way to respond or say nothing. (Knight, 2016)

Don’t interrupt.

Stop interrupting other people when they are talking. When we interrupt others, we are showing them in not-so-subtle ways that we believe that what they are saying doesn’t really matter—our comments matter so much more. (Knight, 2016)


Knight, Jim. (2016). Better Conversations, Coaching Ourselves and Each Other to Be More Credible, Caring, and Connected. London, UK. SAGE Publications Ltd.

Krznaric , R. ( 2014 ). Empathy: Why it matters, and how to get it . New York, NY : Penguin .

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