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?
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?
I drew my inspiration for the blog posts this year from Frederick Buechner's wonderful book, Alphabet of Grace. In it, he invites us to discover the hidden wisdom that can be gleaned through a heightened experience of daily life. This seemed fitting for a blog about narrative coaching and design and their focus on getting to the crux of the matter through simple, deeply human processes. In keeping with his alphabet, I will write about one element of this work each week—from A to Z.
Each post will be structured around the Pivoting tool from narrative coaching. Pivots are designed to help us be aware of moments when we have a choice between an old story we want to move away from and a new story we want to move toward. For example, "In this moment, will I avoid making the call to ask for the sale (because I am afraid to fail) or will I act (because I want to learn and improve)?
As you think about your life or practice, what is your golden cube? What is the old story that needs to be released or reconfigured so you can be more in alignment with what you truly want? For example, it could be a belief that you have to be completely prepared before you can even start. I know I often struggled with this one in the past. I integrated design thinking into this work in part because I recognized the value in just getting started sometimes. Align yourself with new stories that serve you AND be willing to break free of old stories when you need to adapt or grow. Start small; keep it simple; nudge yourself. That is the narrative coaching way.
Nine ethical guidelines for narrative coaches. As part of our due diligence as professionals, it is incumbent upon coaches to be aware of our own unconscious biases and preferences that shape
Listening narratively. Narrative coaches stay in the lived experience of the conversation as much as possible. Some of the practices they use in doing so...
Narrative Identity. A distinguishing feature of a narrative approach to coaching is its emphasis on the critical role of situated (e.g., somatic, relational, contextual, and adaptive) identity in understanding and supporting
Four general guidelines for taking a narrative approach to coaching
Dr David Drake is the founder of the field of Narrative Coaching.