March 8, 2024

How to change lives without taking the center stage: the most important stance for coaches

A coach’s position is one that is de-centered but influential to quote Michael White, one of the founders of narrative therapy. As you may know, this position resonates deeply with me, and I cherish it both when I am able to take this stance and when I experience it in other coaches and especially in my supervision clients and participants of our courses.

Navigating the balance between being de-centered and influential requires awareness and a profound understanding of the space we occupy and the space we share. Such a position is not easy; it requires constant negotiation of our presence and influence, asking us to hold space for others' narratives while thoughtfully contributing our own voice. This delicate dance of influence and respect is a journey of continuous learning, unlearning, and relearning—a commitment to fostering co-creation in every interaction.

Social constructionist coaching, like Solution Focused or narrative coaching look so easy (and sometimes even formulaic) to the uninformed observer. We are sometimes given feedback that we “did not address the ‘real’ issue” or that we “ignored the underlying root cause” of the problem. Feedback like this overlooks the mastery that lies in the de-centered but influential stance.

A prerequisite for being able to take a de-centered stance is having learned and experienced that our stories are not the truth. We need to know and embody that narratives are malleable and that stories constitute truth rather than being “about” truth. We need to be able to hold conflicting truths simultaneously. My personal experience is that I fall into “truth traps” often. I often think I know what is best for people (usually not in coaching, but in my private life). I am prone to say things like: “I don’t know in which universe what this person is currently doing makes sense in!”, meaning I disagree, and I would do it differently (and better). Letting this go is not easy (at least for me).

We invite our clients to tell stories with acceptance of “the facts”. We invite clients to recreate their stories in ways that serve them better – and this is something that we can only do holding the idea that there is no “real problem” and no “root cause” that needs to be identified in the one-and-only true reality.

This stance demands a deep humility—to recognize and prioritize the stories and experiences of others, while also engaging with the world around us in a way that is meaningful and responsible. It challenges us to listen more than we speak, to learn continually, and to reflect deeply on our influence: Are we inviting “truths” that help our clients or hinder them? Are we inviting “truths” that help our clients interact positively with their context? Are we co-creating with our clients in ways that suit them?

If you want to discuss these or other musings, why don’t you come to one of our free meetups and exchanges?

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