What Is Narrative Coaching?

Oct 12, 2022

Storytelling is the most natural and ancient form of human communication and connection. Stories are the medium by which we find our place in history, build our sense of meaning, and evolve our identity.

Over 25 years ago, Dr. David Drake recognized that traditional coaching methods often just worked with clients at the surface level. They didn’t take into account the personal and social narratives that informed his clients’ identities and actions. As a result, sustainable change was often out of reach for them.

Narrative Coaching was created to offer a more natural and powerful alternative. It flips the traditional coaching paradigm on its head. For example, Narrative Coaches start in silence and only speak when necessary, listen deeply before not after asking questions, and trust that the story will reveal itself rather than needing to drive the conversation.

Keep reading to discover how stories are used in Narrative Coaching and what the Narrative Coaching process looks like.

First, we’ll start with a note from the creator of Narrative Coaching, Dr. David Drake:

A Note From Dr. David Drake:

As Narrative Coaching moves into its third decade, the world is in a very different place then it was at the beginning. Its foundation in bringing new stories to life is even more important now as many close down out of fear and the complexity of the new stories we need feels elusive. Many of the larger narratives in which we situated our identity feel less certain.

What I love about this work is that it is a living, breathing process. It has grown alongside the thousands of coaches and others around the world who use this work in their practice. One of the big shifts that is underway is from coaching people to succeed in what is to exploring how to coach people to create what could be.

Why Focus on Internal Narratives?

Narrative Coaching believes that narratives are at the heart of identity. Some of these narratives we are born into because of our gender, sexual identity, culture, location, or time in history. These things shape who we are early in life. Other narratives emerge later in life as a result of lived experiences and choices we’ve made. Our identity is a mash-up of all these narratives, and stories help us articulate these narrative patterns that form who we are.

In Narrative Coaching, before we embark on a change process with a client, we want them to increase their level of self-awareness. This involves increasing their awareness of the narratives that currently form their identity by inquiring into what is the story I’m telling myself right now?

This inquiry into current narratives is a significant portion of the transformative process of Narrative Coaching. Once clients are more aware of the stories they tell themselves, they gain agency and have space to consider what alternative stories they may want to tell instead. Through experimentation and serious play, clients discover which narratives serve them, and which narratives they’d like to evolve.

When you change your narratives, you start a systemic change process from the core of who you are. You’ll find that you start to talk differently, stand differently, and feel differently. These deep shifts are what make the change that occurs through Narrative Coaching sustainable.

How Is Story Used in Narrative Coaching?

The #1 principle of Narrative Coaching is that everything you need is right in front of you. Most of what you need can be uncovered by digging into your client’s narratives.

When a client is telling you a story in coaching, they’re trying to make sense of something in their life. It’s often too early for them to know exactly what the story is about or the function it’s serving. That’s why we tend to avoid setting goals in Narrative Coaching. We’ve seen that we rarely end a coaching conversation where we began. By tuning into the present moment and our client’s story, we allow deeper needs to emerge. What we’re there to do as a coach gets revealed to us as we inquire into our client’s narratives.

In this way, the client’s story can do the work for us. What is the story trying to draw attention to? How is the story coming out in the client’s voice, body language, or facial expressions? There are often pieces of the story that aren’t visible right away but that emerge as you pay attention to more subtle cues such as posture or energy.

The Narrative Coaching Process

As you enter a session with your client, the Narrative Coaching process asks that you practice radical presence and refine your ability to serve as a narrative advocate.

Start by inquiring into where your client is at in the moment and allow their response to guide the session. This requires you to avoid writing agendas or pre-planning the sequence of each session. In Narrative Coaching, we’ve experienced that you can get to more meaningful outcomes when you stop planning growth in advance.

Instead, what we do in Narrative Coaching is witness what the client’s story is trying to make apparent and play a supportive role as the story emerges. We question: why is the client telling *this* story? And why are they focused on *this* detail? Through this inquiry, we gain insight into what they want to change.

As Narrative Coaches, we act as a witness to our client’s change process and as a resourceful guide as they explore emerging desires. Entirely reliant on the present moment to inform our coaching, we’re able to respond to what needs support right now as opposed to driving clients down items on an agenda.

Join The Narrative Coach® Program

The Narrative Coaching process may seem radical at first. You’ll find, however, that change happens by tapping into small moments. This process does not require you to uncover big, life-changing narratives. Instead, many of the most powerful Narrative Coaching sessions revolve around very simple anecdotes or small stories.

To learn how to use Narrative Coaching in your coaching practice, join the next cohort of The Narrative Coach® Program.