Active Listening: An Important Health Coaching Skill

One of the key ingredients to successful health coaching of a client is to fully engage in active listening.  The entire focus should naturally be on the client (or patient) throughout the session.

What is active listening?

Active listening is focused listening and attention.  It is being present and fully in the moment.

It is different from a traditional friendly conversation with the back and forth and sharing of information.  In coaching, there simply is no or very little personal information shared.  Instead, the coach must engage with the client on a different level.  Active listening in health coaching has many components.

Let’s set the stage:

Physical effects and tone

  • Comfortable seated positions
  • Eye contact (no distractions)
  • Full attention – the client needs to feel as though they are the only person in the room, the only person you are thinking about (This is true even for small group sessions.)
  • Body language – mirroring the client’s emotions or energy level and their body language can be subtle and inviting, helping them to open up more


  • Reflecting – A great way to let a person know they have truly been heard is to reflect back, repeat the statement they have made (either in their own words or with a slight tweak)
  • Remain interested – Showing a genuine curiosity about the client’s thoughts and feelings leads them to open up more and gain insight.  Insight is critical for life transformation.
  • Questioning – Open-ended questions are another great tool for getting your client to expand on their comments and go deeper.  Yes or no questions, while sometimes appropriate, naturally tend to limit client responses and do not lead to further exploration of a topic.
  • Metaphors – Another form of reflecting is to use a metaphor that may resonate well with the client.  This creates a visual, or otherwise, sensory image that can help the client to achieve insight.  If the metaphor did not ring true for the client, check in and ask them if that feels right for them.

The trick to active listening in this context, is to make your client feel truly support in the health coaching atmosphere.  While many clients do come to health and wellness coaches initially for goal-setting related to a life change they would like to make, it is with active listening that they are made to feel a part of their own solution.

Clients can thrive with health plans and SMART goals, but for long-lasting or even transformational change, they need to touch something personal within themselves.

Listen to their story.  It is your job as a health and wellness coach to listen. And while you listen, you will skillfully interject your active listening skills, at just the right pauses in time.  Don’t be afraid to let their be seconds of silence.  These pauses can be windows of opportunity for further and often deeper thinking and dialogue.

Health coaching can be transformational in people’s lives.  Put your amazing skills to use!

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