Reviews of Are You Listening?

Reviews of Are You Listening?

Jenny Rogers with her book

15 June 2022

We recently read Are You Listening? Stories from a Coaching Life by Jenny Rogers in the EMCC UK Book Club. Mike Conway, Lucy Whitehall and Donna Ward-Higgs write below with their thoughts and responses to the book.

‘She distils her coaching wisdom gained through her experience of both success and failure, each revealed with equal humility’
Review by Mike Conway

In Are You Listening? Jenny Rogers describes the coaching room as its own theatre. This thought-provoking, warm, and endearing book draws us, the audience, into a series of acts where human dramas play out before us.

We coach humans, yet so often coaching books subjugate the human element to tools and techniques, or new models awkwardly shoe-horned into pithy acronyms. This book, on the other hand, captures the essence of coaching, described by the author as the authentic connection between coach and client. Jenny transports us through decades of coaching experience, introducing us to sometimes composite but always compelling characters to illuminate many common coaching themes, exquisitely presented in that most difficult craft to master: the art of short story telling.

She distils her coaching wisdom gained through her experience of both success and failure, each revealed with equal humility. She also shares with us some of the most poignant moments of her personal life and their impact on her coaching practice, bringing the authenticity of her practice into the pages in front of us.

Every coach should read this book, for the joy and the sadness it evokes in us as people; for the nuggets of wisdom that may help us with our own clients; for the humbling reminder that we can learn as much, if not more, from our clients as they can from us; and for the honest admissions from a master coach of coaching knowledge which still eludes her, reminding us that we will never stop learning.

The book achieves its purpose. Each chapter ends with a satisfying denouement or epilogue to sate our curiosity as to what happened next. But as the curtain goes down on the last act in Jenny’s theatre (the beautifully quoted ‘Time Spent with a Cat is Never Wasted’), like all good human dramas, we are left entranced with the characters we feel we now know, and we are left wanting more.

Are You Listening? is a very easy read. Each chapter is standalone, meaning that the book can be read in short bursts, in the reader’s preferred order, or, more likely, binge read cover to cover. Even though the book covers decades of organisational evolution and the gradual acceptance of the relevance of coaching to business, there is a sense that the coaching themes and their human contexts are timeless, and thus their relevance has no expiration date.

This is not however, a technical book. It is a series of intimate interplays between two human beings, both at times struggling or refusing to be vulnerable and authentic, achieving this state sometimes through the most serendipitous events. It is a joy of a book, a book that will sit prominently on my bookshelf for repeated reading. It prompted reflection on just how vulnerable and authentic I am with all my clients, and what I need to change; as well as reflection on where and how I need to focus my further development.

It is a debatable fact whether we can learn from other people’s experiences, or whether coaching experience can be chronologically telescoped even if we are signposted into someone else’s fast lane, ahead of where we are on our own journeys. I guess I have come to regard this book not only as an enjoyable read but as a legible, tangible mentoring resource to guide me if (or more likely when) I come across similar coaching clients or contexts to those described so eloquently by Jenny.

I loved Jenny’s definition of coaching. ‘Coaching is about listening with exquisite attention, offering acceptance, challenge and kindness.’ I remind myself of this before each coaching and supervision session. It has become my favourite coaching definition.’

‘She provides a refreshing alternative to the myriad of books on the market about tools, models and “must dos”’
Review by Lucy Whitehall

In Are You Listening? Jenny Rogers shares a wealth of experience and knowledge about the dark arts and alchemy of coaching, demystifying the coaching room for both coach and client. She talks in her introduction about one of the universal truths of executive coaching, that just because someone has an exec title does not make them immune to the ups and downs of human existence.

This book is for all coaches. It is the book I wish I’d had access to back in 2008 when I was beginning to realise that the way I approached conversations was with the mind of a coach. Having said that, I’m not sure the book would have resonated as deeply as it has now, 14 years later, with many hundreds of hours of coaching under my belt – still learning, always learning!

Picking out a favourite part of Are You Listening? is almost impossible, but the introduction, where Jenny sets the scene, is genius. Her definition of the paradox of coaching – how it is so simple in many respects and yet at the same time, hard to deliver – is hugely accurate. Her vulnerable authenticity made me so curious. Her ability to completely be herself with her coaches is something that provides an undercurrent to my own practice.

The book provides many learning opportunities, but the real learning for me was affirming that I am doing just fine! Her style is challenging because she continually asked questions of herself, such as: Do I really want to continue with this problematic client? It automatically raised similar questions in me.

Jenny acknowledges that in the early years of coaching we may need different tools and models, but this changes as we mature as coaches and move into a more nuanced, organic and (most importantly) natural style of coaching. She provides a refreshing alternative to the myriad of books on the market about tools, models and ‘must dos’.

She is refreshingly honest about the (perceived) failures she’s had along her journey as a coach. That was hugely helpful to me as I often strive to have successful coaching engagements, but that is very often not in my control.

My learning continues – I keep returning to Jenny’s book when I need to remind myself what coaching really is and who I need to be as a good coach – as well as the limitations of coaching. What changed for me as a result of reading this book? My confidence soared.

‘There is something in each new story that sheds light on the feelings and reactions at the core of our human existence’
Review by Donna Ward-Higgs

Are You Listening? aims to peer behind the curtain of the interactions that take place during a coaching session. In each of the 20 stories told by Jenny Rogers, the reader is taken on a journey that reminds us never to assume, and of the importance of pausing and truly listening in order to unlock the powerful thinking of another through coaching.

The book provides useful insight for anyone involved in coaching practice, but also to anyone invested or interested in human dynamics and relationships. The themes are universal: loss, death, confidence, love, shame, guilt and courage, and so there is something in each new story that sheds light on the feelings and reactions at the core of our human existence.

While each story stands alone, the flow of the journey through each unique story is beautifully woven together. There are real opportunities to pause and reflect on our own practice, and the underlying principles of coaching that we commit to in our individual and collective philosophies. Are You Listening? made me stop to reconnect to what being non-judgmental and non-directive means to me in my work, and gave me a nudge to reconnect with Schon’s model of reflection in action and reflection on action.

The learning, for me, was in the journey I took in following Jenny’s unique perspective and world view in each situation, because we all bring that to our work – our own unique perspective and world view. Being reminded to check in on our awareness of that is crucial to our effectiveness as coaches and of being in the moment with our clients.

I’m not sure there is a specific change I want to make as a result of reading this book. What it has done for me is remind me and reinforce the importance of supervision – in a range of formats, so that I continually notice my own perspective and perceptions, and I give myself the opportunity to learn from others’ unique perspectives too.

Are You Listening? – click for all our Book Club resources for this book