by Lisa Bloom, MBA, PCC
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, the stepmother was ugly but good, and the princess was beautiful but mean!
What would you do if you could rewrite the classic stories of your childhood? What if Cinderella forgot to leave the ball at midnight, the prince hated her in peasant clothes and the whole kingdom laughed her out of the palace? What if they thought she was a witch because she transformed herself, and that she ought to be drowned? What if all that time spent sweeping the chimney gave her consumption and the spoiled prince couldn’t stand the sound of her coughing? What if they didn’t actually get on very well and fought constantly? What if Cinderella had fallen for a princess instead?
Here are some broader questions about storytelling, which we will answer in this article:
- Why is storytelling experiencing a dynamic revival and how is that relevant to coaching?
- Why do we love stories so much and how can they transform our lives and business?
- What is the role of storytelling in coaching and why is it becoming such a hot topic in business?
Storytelling is an age-old tradition in every culture. It happens in many different settings, around the fire, over the washing of clothes in the river or by the well. It is the way people have connected and shared their lives with each other since the beginning of time. Throughout the generations, communities have passed down their stories from parent to child, preserving their history and culture, recording their experiences. In The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations, author Stephen Denning says, "Stories provide continuity in our lives, conveying a sense of where we have come from, our history and our heritage…through stories, our values and principals have been passed from one generation to another."
We now live in a world where there is a huge reliance on technology and where there is a vast amount of knowledge on every subject readily available to huge populations of people. In spite of this, or perhaps as a result of this, storytelling as an art form is in the midst of a revival world-wide. People are craving the simplicity of traditional storytelling. Annette Simmons in The Story Factor says, "Information simply leaves us feeling incompetent and lost. We don’t need more information. We need to know what it means. We need a story that explains what it means and makes us feel like we fit in there somewhere."
We are fascinated by stories and instinctively understand and experience the power of both telling and listening to stories. Storytelling is being used more and more in therapeutic environments, increasingly recognised as a powerful tool to help people better understand themselves and make positive changes in their lives.
There has been an explosion of interest in social media, human development, and coaching as a profession; people are searching for connection on so many levels; they are looking for truth and a sense that their life has meaning. "When you tell a story that touches me, you give me the gift of human attention – the kind that connects me to you, that touches my heart and makes me feel more alive……We crave something that is real or at least feels real…", according to Annette Simmons in The Story Factor.
Storytelling is the perfect complement to the coaching process, helping us answer the questions we bring into coaching. On one level, storytelling gives the coach an additional tool to get to a level of understanding or awareness which may be inaccessible to the client. This level may be blocked for many reasons; through listening to a story, the client can hear and subsequently deal with more difficult issues.
On another level, we are all storytellers and our narrative is the story of how we talk of our lives. As we experience life, we "tell" it. We pass along almost every event that happens to us–as an anecdote, complaint or amusing tableside story–sometimes lightly and sometimes purposefully and with interpretation. And in the "telling," in the narrative we choose, we define the experience. When we look closely at the narrative and examine the stories we choose to tell, we begin to understand how committed we can become to these stories. We also understand the fascinating potential to create new and better stories–stories that empower us and allow us create a more fulfilling reality.
Businesses in every industry, including coaching, are discovering that as we develop our storytelling skills, we learn how to better market our services by creating our own compelling story–the authentic story of what we can offer. It is the story that people remember, it is the story that has the potential to attract clients, it is the story that is becoming increasingly recognized as an effective business tool.
Likewise, as we develop advanced "storylistening" skills, we can better understand the stories that our prospective clients tell us. From that, our sales and marketing process becomes more exact and this helps us grow our business and break through to a new level of success.
Lisa Bloom, MBA, PCC, founder of Story Coach Inc., is the creator of "Cinderella and the Coach – the Power of Storytelling for Coaching Success," an ICF-accredited continuing education program. Visit www.story-coach.com to download the free e-book, "5 Common Mistakes People Make That a Good Story Can Fix," or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.