Looking for coaches who work with stories

What’s the story?

Are you a coach whose practice draws on a narrative perspective, or explores how clients make and tell themselves stories? If so, can you help with my research project?

I’m doing a Masters dissertation on how an awareness of stories can help clients. I want to talk to coaches who work with a narrative perspective. I’d particularly like to hear from you if your approach resonates at all with what I describe below.

I bring a particular interest to the subject as a coach whose practice draws on an earlier career in journalism. I retain the journalist’s habit of viewing events as stories and instinctively try to tease out the stories represented in coaching conversations. But narrative has a broader relevance to coaching than this.

Stories are how we make sense of the world and together make our social world. With the fading of the grand narratives which traditionally provided meaning and direction for people, individuals are challenged to create their own personal narratives to make sense of their life’s purpose. I’m interested not just in the outcome of story creation, but also the process – since a story is always materially affected by the circumstances of its telling.

My impression is that coaching can help individuals understand the narratives which shape their expectations of themselves. Some people also suggest that coaching can help clients construct narratives which can give them a more positive sense of self and direction. I’m open-minded about this.

In my view, the narrative perspective can foster reflexivity in coaching, providing a language to enable coach and client to see their own conversation as collaborative story-making. This can help clients see beyond the perception of reality as a given, and see themselves much more as the author of their own meaning. I want to test these assumptions in my research project.

I’m also interested in exploring a narrative-based approach as creativity. It can help elicit resourcefulness in a coachee: triggering things like memories, lateral thinking and imagination – insight that may be embodied in an individual but not always readily accessible.

I link this to a view of the mind being developed by neuroscience (and here I’m at the limit of my intellectual competence). This sees the mind as largely unconscious and comprising diverse mental models of the self, which are activated and synthesised in different ways according to different perceived triggers. Narrative inquiry can encourage a client to explore a story from different perspectives. This can mobilise the client’s imagination to bring more of the mind’s stored experiences to bear on the subject at hand than might otherwise be the case, for example helping the client more easily to empathise with a difficult colleague.

I see a further link between narrative and a developmental view of the self as a process of evolving meaning-making. The narrative perspective provides a way to think about how the self is influenced by each experience incrementally. If a story is always unique to the circumstances of its telling, we are also slightly changed every time we tell or hear a story. Even where a story is retold between narrator and listener, it is different the second time since the way both individuals interpret its meaning will be influenced by the first telling and whatever experience has occurred in the interim. So how a story unfolds in a coaching conversation will itself have an impact on how the coachee perceives it. What does this mean for how coaches should work with stories, and how will stories developed between coach and coachee stand up in the coachee’s life beyond the coaching sessions?

I am interested in testing these thoughts-in-development by talking to other coaches who draw on narrative, and exploring how they use it. I’d like to understand: what you consider narrative and story to be; how you apply these concepts in your coaching; what outcomes you think are brought about for your clients by drawing on a narrative perspective; and what are the avenues for further developing your narrative-informed practice.

Initially, I’m looking for a short exploration of your views. The methodology of my research after that will be influenced by the response I get to this request. Most probably, I’d be looking for about 90 minutes of your time for an in-depth interview (either in person or by phone or Skype).

If you’d be interested in finding out more, please get in touch via this contact page or LinkedIn or Twitter.

Image courtesy Julia Manzerova

6 thoughts on “Looking for coaches who work with stories

  1. Hi Martin,

    Glad to hear of your interests in the use of narratives of coaching. When I first started writing about narrative coaching I was particularly interested in the narrative content. As the years have gone by, I’ve found myself increasingly interesting in the narration process itself in coaching and in my honing my abilities to “think narratively.” I am interested in where you want to head with this work in looking at creativity. Happy to be of support to you.

    David

  2. Your project sounds great and I would like to follow your progress.

    As one who has completed a couple of Master’s theses and am now working on a doctoral dissertation, I would only suggest that you keep very focused. All the neuroscience etc may take you too far afield for your present purposes.

    I like what you say here:

    In my view, the narrative perspective can foster reflexivity in coaching, providing a language to enable coach and client to see their own conversation as collaborative story-making. This can help clients see beyond the perception of reality as a given, and see themselves much more as the author of their own meaning. I want to test these assumptions in my research project.

    OR this:

    I’m also interested in exploring a narrative-based approach as creativity.

    You might look how emergence theory might tie into narrative coaching as a stimulus to creativity or creative problem-solving.

    But, I would pick ONE of those and run with it. A really tight Master’s thesis can be 75-80 pages.

    Rodney

  3. Thanks for your thoughts, Rodney. I don’t have the competence to explore the neuroscience in much depth. But I take your point. There’s a balance to be struck between setting out the ground on which you stand and going off at a complete tangent.

    I’m having difficulty separating narrative as collaborative meaning-making and narrative as creativity. They’re two sides of the same coin for me as the creativity opens up a broader canvas of meaning-making. But I agree on the need for focus. I’m still at a formative stage but am narrowing down quite quickly.

  4. Hey Martin,

    Have you talked with David Drake at all? He is sort of a guru in the narrative approach to coaching. I will send you contact info in a private email. Maybe your project would coincide with something he is doing and you could both benefit.

    Rodney

  5. According to Mikhail Bakhtin’s dialogics, the meaning-making process in conversation is creative and generative. Because each participant brings a carnival of voices to the conversation, there are more than two present in every dialog and more than one present even if one is alone.

    Emergence theory (physics) says that systems contain emergent properties that, contrary to conventional thinking, cannot be explained by knowing its constituents.

    Ludwig Wittgenstein said the meaning of words is not contained in the words but in their use — in our negotiation of meaning, in our endeavor to” go on” together.

    There may be something useful in this for you … or not.

    Rodney

  6. I am so delighted to see research being done on this oh so important subject.

    Storytelling has been something I have been teaching for many years, executives who are in transition or in position with huge successes for those looking for a job and those who wish to become stonger leaders.

    What amazes me, on another level, is when I tell stories, while in session with a client, and how lateral thinking or even unconscious lightbulbs are lit, as they occur for my clients.

    I found this dynamic most intriguing when I would tell a story ( I am a former journalist and photojournalist) and my clients would say something like, “While you were talking I suddenly realized…” or “I just thought of something whilst you were talking…”

    Inevitibly it’s a rich new idea, a healthy awareness, a resource that had been clouded by intellectualization or an intuitive leap to an important place.

    I would be glad to be interviewed and contribute to this most important research!

    Judy Rosemarin
    http://www.sense-ablestrategies.com

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