By Martin Vogel
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).
Image courtesy Julia Manzerova