Where could you go if your pack were lighter? How can you lighten the load in your organization so people can invest in what actually makes a difference? Where can you start?
Using our narrative coaching model, we can look at unlocking our potential as follows:
As the woman's story unfolded, I learned that she was headed to her first job interview after many years of not working — and wanted everything to be just right. As she found the crumpled ten dollar bill in the bottom of her purse, perhaps a prized possession for her, she handed it to the clerk with pride. She shared why she was returning to work and her hopes that that would hire her. While she seemed to have little to celebrate as measured by our consumerist standards, she was beaming with such joy. After the story ended she turned and thanked me for being patient in waiting for her.
The gratitude was mine as well a few moments later when I got her ten dollar bill as part of the change from my purchase. How poetic... We so often postpone joy, thinking it has to be a certain way. It is like the photo at the top of this post: Sometimes we complain about the hard rock which we believe keeps us from joy. Other times we believe we need to have a field of sprouts before we can have joy.
I saw this as well in running a recent leadership program wherein the client at first thought that joy would only come if we figured out all the details beforehand. Once the actual program actually started, they could see the joy participants felt in being witnessed as they opened up to new aspects of themselves and new possibilities for their work.
What are you waiting for? Are you imagining joy is somewhere else and sometime else? Even in the midst of challenges and difficulties? It is about being fully human not perfect conditions or faddish claims. Where would you like to let go and let joy in? What is your crumpled ten dollar bill in this moment that would open up a new narrative for you?
Next narrative coaching online course starts April 18!
If you want to learn narrative coaching and develop yourself at the same time, check out our online program. The course runs for nine weeks and it is a great opportunity to interact with David as the founder of the field.
We have limited the number of participants to 20 to retain a sense of intimacy in working together.
So, sign up now to make sure you get in.
As I continue through the alphabet in this weekly series, it was fitting that the letter "I" came around this week. There is something quite intimate about the loss of someone close as it brings you profoundly in touch with what is most essential about your life. For example, I reflected that while Ann was so vital and generous (hallmarks of intimacy), she seemed to struggle to really let others in. It is something I see time and time again in my workshops and coaching sessions—people who can so easily give to others what they secretly long to receive for themselves.
In this same week or so I ran one of my most powerful Labs ever (near Amsterdam), had some important conversations with my daughter, reconnected with a dear old friend and started a new relationship. What these each had in common was a much greater willingness on my part to allow in the other person. As a result, I am exploring intimacy as joyful and engaged reciprocity. As meeting in the unknown with full presence. As creating moments of meeting that heal, ourselves and others.
Where can you open yourself to more intimacy in your life? Let it flow...
Key to creating these moments in how we coach and how we work is the mindfulness. Yet, if we are not careful, the amazing potential for this body of work to foster health and well-being may be compromised. Read more about it here from Zöe Krupka. I see a need to think of mindfulness and health at four levels, starting with the most common one at the bottom of the ladder. Mindfulness:
TWO QUESTIONS FOR YOU: Where are you on this ladder? Where can you bring more mindfulness and health into your life in ways that enrich your life and that of others across all four levels?
I was thinking about gratitude as I prepared for my presentation to about 20 members of their HR and coaching communities. Yet again I find that my descriptions of narrative coaching are more and more about the ability to be simply and deeply human in the presence of another person with intention. Gratitude is essential for keeping within the non-judgmental frame that is at the core of narrative coaching.
I also came to realize that gratitude also plays an important, yet unacknowledged, role in learning. It enables us to soften the grip with which we hold on to certain stories—even those that actually keep us from what we most dearly want. I thought if that in the course of my travels to Europe when I encountered on several occasions people who were so caught up in their own world that they did not recognize they were infringing on everyone around them.
I saw in reflecting on those encounters how I trapped myself in stories about them—and more broadly the state of the world—in ways that continued to hinder my experience long after they had gone. Gratitude is not about condoning, but rather about freeing ourselves to learn and pivot in the moment. It is one of the key skills we teach in our programs, as part of moving away from old explanations and into new experiences.
Gratitude is an act of appreciation for the gift of awakening, a release of the grip and an opening to learn and step into a more generative story. It is being grateful for the discovery of what one needs to learn, which then enables us to move toward a new story. It is available to us each and every moment, though it often becomes more obvious to us when our Shadows cross our path.
What is yours to learn in this moment? Will you allow in a sense of gratitude to soften your narrative grip?
I saw this marvelous sign on the side of a museum by the wharf in Oslo. I was there running a Lab with some wonderful folks in a beautiful city. It was one of those trips were most things flowed quite easily, not always the case with travel these days. It got me to think about frustration.
No, not the kind that comes when you are one of 400 passengers sitting on the tarmac for nearly three hours for 'maintenance' issues, only to be let off and discover that—once can find them—there are only two service staff to process all of you. All of you...
I mean the kind that is generative. Like, when something doesn't go your way and you use the occasion to clarify what you really want. The key difference is the former experience is deadening while the latter is awakening. One of the greatest gifts in coaching is to help people learn much faster such that they can get the key insight and pivot from frustration to flow in the moment!
As I write in my book, "Narrative coaching views frustration . . . as a generative and essential driver of growth when handled well. We don’t rush to relieve people’s frustration, but instead use it as an opportunity to explore their wholehearted wish and what stands in its way." We are curious about, “What frustrated desire is this person seeking to express and fulfill in this story?”
I think of a workshop participant who complained that her partner in the exercise was trying too hard to help her and wasn't listening to her. Rather than step in, I asked her what she was working on in this exercise. She responded that it had to do with claiming more of her personal power. I offered the possibility that her frustration was an invitation to notice that he was the perfect person for her in this exercise. He was offering her the perfect opportunity to express more of her own personal power by inviting him to participate with her differently. She later reported that this issue, which had plagued her for some time, began to dissolve in that moment. They went on to work well together.
Where is there a frustration in your life or practice that is calling you to wake up?
Most of the techniques we teach have very few steps and are deceptively powerful. They often involve an immersion in the moment rather than an inclination to get somewhere. Paradoxically, it allows for more progress to be made. We tend to work on fewer things in coaching a a result, in keeping with what we now how change actually happens.
I saw this again recently with a high tech executive charged with growing new lines of business. Each session ends up revolving around one new frame for him that he can then practice all week. Each one seems to build on the ones before them and allows him to develop simple pivots and track his progress. Last week's was the awareness that his problem was not their problem, which led to a shift in how he approached the collaborators he needed.
As part of walking our talk, this blog models this commitment by focusing only on one aspect of the work each week and doing so in ways that are simple. We are inundated with so many demands on our attention every day. As with narrative coaching itself, I want to offer you new experiences rather than add more explanations which only exacerbate our cognitive congestion.
One of my answers to these questions is a request for you. I am seeking someone who can help me build out two e-learning/technology offers to complement my work in organizations. If you know if someone who is looking for an opportunity to co-create some simple by powerful resources, have them contact me.
Ease and grace....
I have been on a mission since founding the field of narrative coaching nearly 15 years ago to distill the process of human transformation down to its essence. It is based in a belief that people need new experiences far more than more explanations. It has resulted in the creation of a number of practices that are research-based but don't require memorizing lists of theories, steps or terms to work. They just get the job done in the simplest, most direct, way possible. I have found design thinking to be a wonderful tool in this regard.
As I started working with it in projects in organizations, I came to realize that it could be used in developing people as well. As such, it is now an integral part of the Narrative Design model upon which my work is based. Part of the beauty of working this way is that it is clear enough to guide even a novice yet open enough to make room for a master. It is innately human because it mirrors the process of the stories we tell, the transitions we make and the development we experience. It focuses on one thing at a time.
It allows us to approach personal growth as a design thinking project using the following four phases:
The powerful paradox is that rather than trying to "get somewhere" as is the case with some other approaches, the attention is largely on what is present and what is called for next to further the design. It is about helping people get to the crux of their issue so they can begin prototyping new ways of being and acting. It is about an iterative spiral. It is intentions with direction not goals with steps.
How might this design-based approach help you make a shift in your life or practice that is important to you right now?
It was tempting to run away from this experience, with an easy out that I didn't want to get stuck in that story. I soon realized though that I actually needed to be fully in the experience of what I blurted out so I could find the healing it offered. It proved to be an opening to a very important pivot in my current journey. It was the only way in. Once there, I could see the gift in it and make the shift.
It seems to me that much of what people look to us for in coaching is an expression of courageous compassion. They hope that we will hold space for them in all of their humanity. They want to feel we care for them without condition and from that place we will also be courageous to say what needs to be said . . . and ask the one question they most hope (and fear) we will ask them. They want us to go all in on both and not settle for some bland average. Your strength as a practitioner and their growth depend on it. Why settle for anything less?
I was reminded of this yet again in reading people's reflections on David Bowie's death. One in particular caught my attention as it captured the spirit of narrative coaching as a process that helps people get to and act on the crux of the matter. Read it and ask yourself, "Where can I be more courageously compassionate today?"
Dr David Drake is the founder of the field of Narrative Coaching.