Storytelling is a powerful tool when coaching clients. Popular among all the techniques available to a life coach, storytelling provides value from both sides and illustrates what matters to a client in a way they understand. Sharing anecdotal experience is often frowned upon by life coaches, but when used correctly, storytelling is an effective means of communication. Trained life coaches understand the need for clients to relate to them as well as articulate values on their own. Whether a story is used by the coach to illustrate a concept or by the client to share insight, storytelling has an incredible variety of uses in a coaching relationship.
Storytelling by the Coach
Stories are often used by life coaches to illustrate specific concepts that are more “educational” than is appropriate for a session. Rather than walk a client through technical coaching methods, a coach can illustrate how a concept applies to a real life experience. For example, a client may struggle seeing the “bigger picture” of her career journey while currently in a job she hates. Instead of explaining the SMART goal-setting technique, a coach might tell a story of a past client with the same challenge who began setting SMART short-term goals and eventually created a 5 year career plan she could stick to. If this past client landed a new job she loved, the current client may find more inspiration and technique from the story than by simply learning a goal-setting method.
Another powerful storytelling method used by life coaches is reframing the client experience. Self-narrative is crucial to a client’s progress and a client may see her journey more negatively than it is actually unfolding. When this occurs, a coach can tell the client’s story thus far in their own words, shedding light on the more positive “wins” of the client to encourage her. An illustrative example of this is with a client who (despite making great lifestyle changes) has only lost 7 lbs of her 15 lb weight loss goal. She may feel discouraged and unmotivated to keep going. Her coach can reflect on the client’s progress by summarizing the most positive changes she has made. After hearing her coach emphasize the kitchen makeover, new fitness routine, and growing sense of self-love the client has created for herself told from the coach’s perspective, the client is inspired and proud.
Storytelling by the Client
A lesser known utilization of storytelling is by eliciting information from the client’s perspective. Stories and personal narratives illuminate how the client views their progress and desires so the coach can dig deeper and ask questions. The most valuable knowledge gained from asking a client to share their story is to uncover their “unspoken” motivations. When asked directly, clients are less likely to share desires or fears they are embarrassed to share. This can be overcome by the coach in a more subtle way to learn about client behavior and motives. For example, a client may report to the coach that she struggles receiving affection from her husband. The coach may prompt the client to describe a few instances where the client felt this way in the past. Perhaps the client reveals times where her husband may have simply been tired or preoccupied, and the coach can point out that this is an opportunity to communicate needs instead of simply expecting affection.
Client storytelling is also necessary to build self-awareness. Humans often hold memories in a way that skews positively or negatively, and life coaches are here to help keep the narrative in a realistic light. Some clients need help reframing their experiences more positively to remain encouraged. A coach may help a discouraged working dad reflect on his progress and effort he’s recently given to spending more time with his family. Some clients need to take accountability for their past mistakes and tell their stories honestly. A coach may ask a teenager failing college to take a step back and describe her role in missing classes and studying. Either way, coaching around clients’ narratives is a powerful use of storytelling to build self-awareness.
Storytelling is a powerful tool because it elicits honest narrations and uncovers client motivations, while also building self-awareness and shedding light on personal accountability. Coaches can take advantage of storytelling from their end to share techniques in the context of the client’s world or to inspire them. Clients allow the coach to understand their worldview and understanding of their own progress. Each of these scenarios prove that used correctly, storytelling holds weight as an effective coaching technique.
Lupe Colangelo is a certified holistic health coach, life coach, and writer for Life Coach Path. She specializes in behavioral psychology and her background includes coaching for various startups as well as in her private practice. From career coaching to helping people maximize their potential in life and health, Lupe uses motivational interviewing and proven behavior change techniques to empower people to find their own success.