Telling Stories

April 5, 2010

“We were at the store and she began telling me that I couldn’t buy the lawn mower. But I wasn’t going to buy it; I was just asking to see if I could get a discount. She got moody and…”

I surprise many of my new coaching clients when I tell them we’re going to skip the rest of the story. Many of them have been encouraged in therapy to tell these “war” stories. And I can imagine times it might be helpful, but most of the time I don’t want or need to hear them.

My coaching takes a forward pointed approach – “Where do you want to go from here?” not so much “Where have you been?”

When I begin to hear a story that is full of the kind of passion and even blame that underpins most disagreements with partners, I just barge right in and call a stop. I’m interested in only one aspect of the story. What could the speaker have done differently to have a more effective conversation, to reach their goal, to create an alliance with their partner, to change their behavior?

I know life is hard and conversations with partners can be very difficult, but the chances of changing your partner are slight if you haven’t changed yourself. So, I start with the most interesting part, how to change your behavior – the one area of life we all have some control over.

Stories allow us to rehearse our past mistakes and support our old, tired way of seeing things. Looking for new ways to redo the same old situations lets us practice new behaviors and ways of seeing things. Start your new behavior by imagining how to redo the old patterns.

What to do with your feelings about how you’ve been treated or spoken to is trickier. But you have to be careful that you don’t just fan the flames of your feelings by telling the story.

Growth and change, that’s what’s important. When I see my clients changing, I know we’ve hit the right balance.

Jay Livingston

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