By Martin Vogel
The findings of my academic research into the use of narrative in coaching have been published by the International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring. I interviewed six coaches whose approach is informed by a sensitivity to stories.
The project was an opportunity for me to take further my life-long interest in narrative. My background to this was as a journalist who naturally makes sense of things through shaping events and information into stories. When I first experienced coaching, I was drawn to becoming a practitioner because I noticed an affinity with my earlier career as a reporter – asking challenging and open questions, cutting to the chase, synthesising and summarising on the fly. While my approach has changed since then, I realised that this story-driven frame of reference was still influencing my style as a coach, even though I wasn’t consciously nor explicitly make it a part of my coaching model. So I decided to use my research project to bring some rigour to my belief in the relevance of narrative to coaching.
Some of the coaches I interviewed drew on a different tradition, that of oral storytelling, and for them narrative was a much more intentional act of creating emotional connection. Other influences that I discovered included the mythologist, Joseph Campbell, and the narrative therapy movement which took inspiration from the ideas of Michel Foucault.
As a result of the study, I still wear lightly the affiliation of a narrative coach. I am not drawn to encouraging clients to think of their coaching challenge as the fashioning of a new story. I might use narrative techniques – such as encouraging someone to imagine their story from another person’s point of view – to help clients gain a fresh perspective on things. More generally, I find myself listening for the narrative that unfolds between coach and client and reflecting this back as a means to improve the quality and depth of the client’s self-awareness. I am very conscious that every time a story is told it is unique to the specific circumstances of the telling and that this puts an onus on me as a coach to be sensitive to my part in its narration. This is not to call into question the coaching doctrine of non-directiveness. Rather, it highlights for me what is involved in maintaining a non-directive stance.
Story matters: an inquiry into the role of narrative in coaching (pdf) is in International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, Vol 10, No 1 pp. 1 – 13.
My thanks to the coaches who participated in the study: Jackie Bayer, Lisa Bloom, Karen Dietz, Cliff Kimber, Judy Rosemarin and Limor Shiponi. Also, to Ian Wycherley, my supervisor, and to David Drake, who was a generous expert informant.