All Communication Is a Form of Storytelling

A Coaching Story

Lately I have been coaching an executive who is in his late fifties. When I met with him recently he revealed that he had suspicions that his organization was trying to push him out and replace him with a younger person from outside the organization. At least, as he told the story, that was the rumor that had been floating round for several months.

I asked what that rumour meant for him. He said, “As much as I love my job, and I would very much miss it, I prefer to leave the organization on my terms.” So he was considering taking the retirement package that has been on the table for him and others who were approaching the 60s age group.

We spent some time talking about what would happen if he did take the package—what were his options post-retirement?

I told him that in the time we have been working together, I have experience him as a very good story teller, and so I decided to ask him how he feels about writing. His eyes lit up instantly and he became visibly excited. He told me that 30 years ago he used to write for a local paper on sports and that he loved it. He had never thought about that experience again—until now. So we explored the kind of things that he could write about, and he got more and more animated, jumping from one possible topic to the next.

A friend of mine recently gave me a book about storytelling (The World Is Made of Stories by David R. Loy, 2010). He makes the point that everything is about storytelling—a piece of fiction, an email, a branding campaign—even this blog is a form of story telling.

Just think about it. Starting each day, before you even wake up in the morning, you emerge from stories in the form of your dreams. When you talk to significant others you are telling a story of how you slept, what you are going to do today, etc. So, in essence, relationships, too, are based on storytelling. How you think and what you choose to share with others about yourself is a constant state of telling stories.

We talk about resonant leaders and resonant followers, about teams and team work, about strategy and vision, about marketing and publicity. In short, all communication is about storytelling, so the challenge for each of us, and for leaders in particular, is in the quality of the story we tell: How does it capture my experience? What is the appropriate amount of background, context and emotional content to share? What impact am I expecting or hoping the story will have on the listener?

When we coach others, we are inviting people to examine the stories they tell about their experience and how those stories affect the way they function on a day to day basis, in the form of self-image and as it affects the way they conduct their relationships with others.

For those who want to develop their competencies around leadership, one approach is through their storytelling, using their own stories, they begin to create different and better realities and future possibilities for the people whom they lead. This can happen through sharing or co-creating vision for the future, or narrating events of the past in a way that gives people insight and opportunities for reflection and growth.

As was the case with my coachee, by supporting him to revisit and tell his story, to return to something from the past that gave him joy and satisfaction, he began to see that many wonderful possibilities await him when he is ready to leave his position and turn to the next great chapters in the story of his life.

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