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.