By Bo Hanson – 4x Olympian, Coaching Consultant & Director of Athlete Assessments

Rather than ask “Do your athletes listen?” a more useful question is “What do your athletes listen for?” For close to a decade I have been specifically working with coaches to help them better understand their athletes and how to tailor their coaching to their specific needs. A frequently discussed topic is around their athletes’ ability to listen. Using the DISC Behavioral Model, this article discusses how the different “athlete profiles” listen, what they listen for, how to improve your coaching communication, and how to communicate to the different DISC profile styles in a team setting.

In a recent coaching conversation I’ve had, a client expressed frustration at certain athletes who appeared not to listen and were more intent on continuing their own conversation whilst the coach was speaking. (By the way, these athletes were of a similar DISC Style.) Now, let me say upfront, I do not condone this behavior, and I do actually see it as a significant mark of disrespect. The athletes need to realize that certain behavior is unacceptable and importantly that others view them as disrespectful. They need to make an adaptation to their own behavior.

However, the flip side is that these athletes’ behavior is very predictable given their DISC profile. For the coach to be more effective, they also need to be more aware of their athletes’ DISC Style, then tailor their communication to suit. In this case, it means keeping their communication to the athlete brief and concise. So the two way street begins.

This article identifies the different ways the various DISC Styles listen, and what they listen for. The aim is for coaches who have a quality understanding of these differences to never find themselves saying, “I told you the plan, now why didn’t you listen?” or “Stop talking and listen to me!!” and finally, “Did you just hear what I said? Why so many questions if you heard me already?”

Why Listening is Hard

The reality is listening is not easy, it is far easier to talk than listen. There are many reasons for this. One is what we refer to as the 150/650 Key. This Key is in reference to the fact that most people talk at around 150 words per minute (unless they are a low Steady and high Influence style… who can talk super-fast) and yet we can receive (our brain is capable of processing) at least 650 words per minute. What this leaves is a gap in processing power. So how do we fill this gap?

This gap can be filled with random thoughts (maybe you are not reading fast enough now to ensure random thoughts are not entering your mind…). Some of these random thoughts are completely off topic and many are not helpful to your upcoming performance. 

Learning How to Listening

Learning how to listen more effectively includes keeping our mind busy enough to avoid being distracted. Empathic listening is an example of listening more effectively, and occurs when we look, observe, interpret and focus on words, tone and body language. This is the essence of more effective listening. The issue is most people, let alone athletes or coaches, have not been taught how to do this, and so it is common for most people to be poor listeners. When understanding the different listening patterns of the DISC Styles we find the issue in addition to the 150 / 650 Key, is also about what they listen for.

Watch Bo Hanson Speak about Listening Skills and DISC- Why Listening is so hard.

In the next part of this article, I will detail what each of the profiles listen for and you shall be able to see how they each filter information differently. To learn about the DISC Model, or to refresh your memory you may find valuable our Introduction to the DISC model in Sport.

Dominant Style Athletes

    1. They are literally listening for you to tell them, describe to them and outline how winning is going to happen.
    2. If you have been talking for 30 seconds or more and they have not heard about winning and the outcomes, then you are going to lose them.
    3. High Dominant Style athletes (High D’s) make fast decisions based on big picture concrete information (facts and figures). So if you have been delving into detail about game plans and tactics for more than a few minutes (especially after outlining the big picture focus points) you are likely to find the High D’s drifting off and thinking about doing it instead of “wasting” more time talking about it.
    4. High D’s listen for their own agenda. They have their own ideas about the path to take and listen for support of their paths.
    5. Bottom line, High D’s cannot be described as a “patient” listener. So always think about presenting them with bullet points and be short, concise, factual, and focus on the winning outcomes.

All of these behaviors in terms of listening styles, are not right or wrong but yes, the High Dominant athletes need to make an adaptation to be more patient and detail focused at times, however, it serves to make clear why they are behaving as they do and it also serves to make clear how we need to communicate with them.

Influence Style Athletes

High Influence Style athletes are focused on being positive, talkative and creating social interaction.

    1. High Influence Style athletes (High I’s) are often observed doing a lot of talking and this therefore makes listening difficult.
    2. High I’s are often thought to be the worst listeners of any style. However what they do listen for is the big picture, the “who” aspect of their involvement and they only listen if the speaker is energetic and enthusiastic about their topic.
    3. High I’s tend to seek out a lot of verbal interaction, but their focus tends to be more on the appearance they are making, and their social status rather than paying attention to the content of a conversation.
    4. When not the one speaking, the classic High I spends the majority of their time thinking of what they are going to say rather than focusing on and considering what is being said to them. A High I with a low S will be talkative and restless in a conversation – they are often caught out looking and finding someone else to talk to and make a connection with, even while they are “communicating” with you. Most coaches and fellow athletes find this massively frustrating. This identifies a key adaptation that High I Style athletes need to make.
    5. So when talking to an Influence Style athlete always be brief, upbeat, energetic and big picture focused. Ensure you outline their role or the basic plan BUT follow up with a question to them to ensure they are on the same page as you. Then let them get out there and do it.

Steady Style Athletes

The High Steady Style athlete (High S’s) is seen as the most effective listener. High S’s are slower-paced, less talkative, relationship focused and team -orientated.

    1. High S’s listen for how things will work. They want to know you as the coach are prepared with a plan (they do not need to know the details) and have ensured there are not going to be any surprises.
    2. High S’s listen for teamwork, and how their role will benefit the team.
    3. The High S is conflict averse. They want harmony so listen for evidence of this. When a coach talks about, “working together”, “being harmonious” “team work”, “selfless behavior” or putting the “team first”, this is all music to a High S’s ears (which by the way, they are likely to have a song in their head as well, due to their often auditory preference).
    4. They are unlikely to interrupt a speaker and they prefer things to move at a slower, steadier pace, and are reticent to upset the status quo – which means you will seldom see a High S walking away from someone who is in the middle of telling a story (no matter how much that story may go on and on).
    5. The High S observes what is happening, keeping their judgment to themselves. They don’t reveal what they have in mind so their focus tends to be on what the other person is saying rather than emulating the High I’s tendency to be thinking up the next interesting thing to say.

Conscientious Style Athletes

The final DISC Style is the High C. Conscientious Style athletes (High C’s) value processes, details, rules and being systemized. They are focused on the task, the quality and of course, doing it right the first time.

    1. Given the above description of the High C’s, they need to know exactly what and why they are doing what they are doing in the practice session or game plan.
    2. High C’s listen for specifics. Not big picture brief information but precise details on exactly what you want from them. They listen for process and facts, figures and statistics to convince them of why your strategy will work.
    3. High C’s listen for information pertaining to the task at hand. They are not interested (compared to S’s and I’s) in the relational aspect of their sport. They are playing to perfect their technique and do the job correctly on the field. So the question is, how you as a coach are going to ensure they execute well.
    4. High C’s are the second listeners best among the DISC styles. The High C makes use of conversations as a form of information gathering but make sure when you as a coach are talking to them, you have all the facts correct, as High C’s feel compelled to correct any errors made by the person speaking and incorrect information is frustrating for them as it leaves them unprepared.
    5. The Conscientious athlete is a formal listener, and will present themselves in a formal way instead of relaxed and informal. Be certain when talking to a High C, that you are efficient and logical in your presentation to them. Otherwise they will struggle to keep up with you.

Listening in a Team Setting

Coaches who understand how and what the different DISC Styles listen for, have a far better chance of gaining respect and credibility in the eyes of their athletes. This is because the coach presents information or their message, in a way which suits the listeners. This is not easy in a team setting, however can be achieved by being structured in such a way as to include what each DISC Style is listening for.

An Example:

  • A coach may begin their pre-practice briefing by talking about the upcoming game, the goal for the game and the importance of an excellent result.
  • Then they move onto what we are doing in today’s practice and how this links to the winning outcome for the game.
  • Next the coach talks about each athlete’s role today and their role on the team and how this links to the game.
  • The finer details of the practice session and process are then given and how the same tactics or focus is going to be used on game day.
  • The coach may then conclude with a jolt of energy and enthusiasm, encouraging all to make todays practice one to count. “Give it your best and let’s go!”

So before your next coaching session, spend some time, looking at your athlete’s DISC Style and prepare your message to suit what they are going to be listening for. The results are well worth the extra effort.

Where to from here…

For more information on how to improve your communication with your athletes, see our:

At Athlete Assessments, we’re here to provide you with excellence in service and here to help you be your best. If there is anything we can assist you with, please Contact Us.

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