Editing The Stories Your Clients Are Telling
Coaches naturally listen to the stories their clients tell them, and they also share anecdotes, metaphors and examples to present new choices.
Understanding the elements of these stories allows coaches to use them with greater leverage and increased reliability.
Imagine a session in which your client tells you something about a recent event, situation or challenge.
It's likely that this will take at least the bare-bones shape of a story.
That shape includes: 1) Who or what the story is about 2) A goal or direction 3) Who or what is helping 4) Who or what is blocking progress 5) Things that happen 6) A resolution or next step Begin with the assumption that the story is not itself the issue: the issue is the set of meanings that are conveyed by the story.
No story has just one possible meaning or even has meaning on only one level.
While people will often say "it's not a story - it's just what happened" we all know that the same events produce different stories depending on who is talking.
Once an event is put into words, it becomes a story, and it begins to function as a story.
That story is an expression of an issue that includes multiple perspectives and factors.
In order to fully appreciate this set of meanings that is expressed through the story, it is useful for both coach and client to explore the story from different perspectives.
Each perspective reveals different elements of the set of meanings that constitute the issue.
The first perspective that presents itself is often the one where the client is the main character in his/her story.
From that perspective, the direction in the story belongs to him/her and other people and circumstances are seen as either contributing to or blocking movement in the desired direction.
This direction may be pointed toward a specific goal, or it may be part of a process that will occur over time.
As a coach, you can help your client to identify the parts that other people or factors are playing in his/her story.
You can also help him/her to explore his/her choice of goal or direction and where that stands as the story ends.
As the client makes shifts in different elements, the meanings that can be drawn from the total story will also shift.
Since most of the story is generated outside of conscious awareness, the client and coach often learn things that would otherwise remain outside awareness.
However the client presents the story originally, it is possible for him/her to identify with a different role in a new telling.
If, for instance, s/he is the main character in the first telling, it is often useful to have him/her retell the incident as if someone else were the main character.
This changes the direction of the story, and the alignment of various characters or factors as helpful or blocking.
Put another way, the story has a much different range of possible meanings when it is told from a new point of view.
These meanings are generated by the client and belong to the client as the teller of the story.
The client "owns" the whole of every story s/he tells.
This sets up the third way of exploring the story.
In this third exploration, the coach and client consider that everything in the story (including whatever other people are assumed to have done or said) belongs to the client.
In other words, in order to tell the story effectively, the client must be able to identify with all the perspectives it includes.
As the client uncovers what it means to own the whole of the story, s/he will become aware of different choices outside the bounds of the story.
Changing the meanings possible within the story changes its relationship to the broader context.
The coach can be an effective editor as the client becomes the author of his/her own success.