Where Stories Live (and How to Meet Them)

Last Wednesday I was invited by ICF, Spain Chapter, to talk about Storytelling for Coaches. One of the attendees asked me a surprising question (surprising to me, of course, since the underlying thought had never crossed my mind). She asked me how I could not judge a client’s story. In order to explore her view on judgement, I asked her about the latest film she had watched. It happened to be “Into the Wild” (Sean Penn, 2007) What she shared was how, while watching it, she decided whether or not she agreed with the main character’s decisions.

I have been thinking about this matter for the past few days and this morning, I summarized my thoughts in this tweet: https://twitter.com/evasnijders/status/219697729348173824

Some (of my) tweets need further explanation, and this may well be the perfect one to start with.

Storytelling, in a Coaching context, is a great tool to look at our experience from a distance. And to concentrate on what works and does not work inside the story (instead of asking ourselves what does and does not work in our lives). It is a matter of listening to the story, “putting it on the table” (in order to observe it from a different point of view) and working with it. By the latter I mean a) asking story questions, about the characters, PoVs, the context, the events… and b) enhancing, enriching and changing the story until it acquires (a new) meaning.

In order to truly hear a story, it is vital to suspend our disbelief and our judgement, for both will cloud our perception. It is equally vital to listen from a place of love (towards the person in front of us, their reality and of course, their story) and curiosity (sitting on the edge of our chair, willing to learn more and more details, to delve deeper and deeper). In that mental place (or “country”, as I called it on Twitter) there is no room, nor need, for judgement other than “what’s missing” and “what does not make sense” in this story?

Stories live between the lines. They tend to be very shy. In order to meet them, we must show them we are trustworthy, be quiet and listen closely.