Coaches, not editors

This is the third in a series of blogs inspired by a days workshop on Narrative Coaching with Dr David Drake.

I’m going to leap straight in this week with a quote from David

“Narratives hold great fear, do not judge your clients”

At first I got caught up in the second part of the quote, thinking “well obviously, I mean why would you judge a client?” yet as I started to explore the idea I realised that there were ways to shape or codify conversations which implicitly carry a form of judgement within them.

The most obvious one is something which most coaches do come up against at one point. A client will ask for advice. What is your next step as coach? Enquire or advocate? Now I’ve covered this subject obliquely before in a previous post but it bears repeating. We aren’t advisors, we are coaches, we don’t have all the answers.  If we start providing solutions then it is a slippery slope ethically. Also, and perhaps more insidiously, we also run the risk of demeaning the client, stepping in as some quasi-heroic figure. Yes, it may provide a solution but also leaves them reliant on our judgement. Not a good thing.

When I returned to the quote a second time the fear part stood out for me. Very often clients haven’t had a chance to talk about the issues that are troubling them. Coaching may be the first time they have been able to lay it all out in one compelling narrative – our reaction as coaches at this point is critical to whether they can assemble a response. There is something about the quality of the conversation that occurs in coaching, and perhaps more specifically about the listening, which allows raw truth to surface. This has to be handled carefully and respectfully. Clients stories vary tremendously but similar patterns occur. What happens when a coach goes in to autopilot or perhaps compassion fatigue? We may wish to skip ahead to (what we perceive will be) the end but the client needs time to tell their story.

During the training I noted down “coaches, not editors” and I think this sums it up well. We are not there to format and edit a client’s narrative, to suit a coaching model or a timescale, rather we are there to allow them to tell their story openly, honestly and without fear of judgement. When that happens, we can get on to helping them change their story.


That final point leads me nicely on to our next subject which will be “Rewriting destiny”, keep an eye out next week.



About Jon Bartlett

I'm a coach, blogging on things that occur to me, that I want to share and any other fun stuff I find lying around in the real world.
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8 Responses to Coaches, not editors

  1. Pingback: Perpetuating Corporate False Memory Syndrome? « Work Musing

  2. You’ve got me thinking ( as you so often do)…
    Really? we’re not there to edit? isn’t the role of an editor to shape and cut into and rejig the narrative? If the story is beautiful and tugs at the heart or if the story is dull and lacking anything compelling, should we not say? Curious…..

    • Hi Julie, glad to hear the blog got you thinking.

      I guess my response is who owns the story? I absolutely agree that we should feed back how the story landed, what things we liked or noticed. Where we see patterns repeating, perhaps in dialogue, perhaps in outcomes. However I hold to the fact that it is not our job to rejig the narrative. For me, the choice is always with the client so they must take responsibility.

  3. In this coaching space, though- the narrative is surely co-created? The coachee is speaking out, but the coach is there – cannot absent themselves. Surely if you think you are being watched or heard, you will often modify your behaviour or opinions? Doesn’t that apply here? The coachee lays out a story, for sure, but what if I disagree with their edit? What if the story is neat and tied up in a bow? can’t I poke and re-edit? If it’s unconvincing?

    • Hi Julie

      I’m not suggesting the coach absent themselves but more that they don’t overreach to influence the outcome. If you imagine a newspaper editor, they have final say over what edit of a story goes in to print and I’m urging coaches to step back and critique rather suggest changes and hold copy approval.

  4. Pingback: Rewrite destiny | Project Libero

  5. liam m says:

    I’ve just read your series of posts on your learning from David Drake’s narrative coaching seminar.

    I attended one in December having developed an interest in narrative while doing my dissertation for my coaching studies last year (which was titled Rewriting the Script…). We seem to have taken different things away from the seminar, which strikes me as an interesting perspective on narrative in itself!

    It’s been useful to read your thoughts to get me thinking again about how I’m beginning to understand narrative in a coaching context (as opposed to the research context in which I first came across it).

    I’ve also read yours and Julie’s comments above. If you’ve not read it already and you’re interested in some of the theory behind it, I’d recommend Riessman, C. K. (1993) ‘Qualitative Research Methods: Narrative Analysis’. It articulates what happens to the information/narrative as it passes between participant (coachee) and interviewer (coach) really well in the intro and first chapter (although the book’s only about 80 pages anyway). It’s made a big difference to how I conceptualise the way I work – hope it’s helpful

    Thanks for an interesting set of articles.

    • Hi Liam

      Thanks for the comments and the suggested reading. Interesting stuff.

      The series isn’t finished, I’ve got a couple more to do yet. It’s been a good exercise to review some of the nuggets of the course. It was always intended as a series to examine these small things rather than narrative in general. Kind of a way in for beginners (which is how I would also class myself in respect to narrative coaching). I agree that it’s interesting we took different things away. Tell me a little more about what stood out for you.

      Hope to see you back here soon.

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