It feels appropriate to start the New Year with a new story. This blog is the first in a series where I will examine my highlights of a day’s training in Narrative Coaching with Dr David Drake. So let’s plunge right in with something David said during the first few minutes of our day together.
“At some level, all stories are fiction, particularly for clients”
I tweeted this observation out and carried on listening but the thought wouldn’t go away, it kept tumbling round my head. I mean, we all know that novels are made up, perhaps based on real life but works of the imagination nonetheless. When we are dealing with clients we are discussing actual events yet only getting one side of the story. I wondered on the application of this quote to my coaching practice. After all, I’m hardly going to say to a client that I don’t believe them but I often have to challenge their interpretation of events. It’s fair to say that humans are not the most reliable witnesses of their own lives. Coaches need context to understand what went on so we have to work in the clients narrative of their experience.
Let’s dig deeper with what David then went on to say…….
“all stories are recreated with each telling”
This actually helped me a lot with the earlier quote. Think about it, we adjust our story of an event based on any number of variables. For example, the amount of time we have to relay it, who we are speaking to, perhaps even what we hope to achieve with telling the story………
Which leads me nicely on to the final quote I want to examine today.
“Did it happen or did we create a narrative to suit us?”
In a wider context this recalled the old quote that “history is written by the victors” and the fact that bias can easily creep in to any narrative of events. In reality, life is messy and complex, it’s natural to skip past actions which reflect poorly on us or refuse to examine decisions which have led us in to difficulty. We’re only human after all.
Which seems to me the point of it all, we are only human. As humans we have always told stories. We started out with simple tales around the fire and over time graduated on to creation myths, then allegories to help us explain events. We naturally search for meaning, we are preprogrammed to do so. Think how many ways we have developed to tell stories, vocal, written, theatre, films, music, dance and animation to just name the obvious ones. It’s surely understandable that we also follow those conventions in our own minds as we create the narratives which help (and at times hinder) us.
As coaches we inhabit the narrative with our clients. We are both audience and reviewer. A difficult balance to maintain. It can be tempting to almost edit the narrative (something I will cover in detail in a later post) but we must resist that temptation. If it is true for the client we need to help them understand why that truth is so compelling, what has led them to that story and perhaps whether they want to change their story. Only then can we coach cleanly and ethically.