Telling Stories

“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 review these stories. And while it might be helpful there, I don’t need to hear them.

My coaching takes a moving forward 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 encourage my clients to be interested in only one aspect of the story. What could they 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 can surreptitiously encourage us to rehearse our past mistakes and support our old way of seeing things. Discussing new ways to redo the same old situations lets us practice new behaviors and ways of seeing things. You can start a new behavior by imagining how to redo old patterns.

But what do you do with your feelings about how you’ve been treated or spoken to? Telling emotionally laden stories can fan the flames of your feelings, and there is evidence that that isn’t helpful either. If your feelings are so intense or complex that they are blocking you from moving forward, it would be appropriate to see a therapist. If you can move a bit despite your feelings, try moving toward what you want.

How to grow and change? That’s the important question. When I see my clients changing, I know we’ve hit the right balance.