The Art of Storytelling in Coaching

The Art of Storytelling in Coaching

The Purpose and Value of Storytelling

I’ve loved stories ever since I heard and read them as a child. Later, as a behavioural development professional and consultant, I heard hundreds of stories, personal and professional, and over the years it became clear to me that this approach had a tremendous effect on awareness and decision-making as well as a huge impact on individual and group restructuring.
We all have experiences from which we create meaning. The multiple stories we have about our lives involve us and connect certain events in a particular sequence over time. These meanings form the plot of the story. We live our lives forwards and make sense of our experiences by looking back – what we call “joining the dots”, seeing how “the thread is woven” and anticipating what comes next.

The concept of Storytelling is a narrative practice that has been part of humanity since man could consider himself man. Oral storytelling was the way to perpetuate knowledge, the memory of facts, feelings, emotions and values.

Its success endures to this day and is related to the effectiveness that narratives have in terms of memory, stimulating the imagination and being able to make correlations for the future.
Therefore, in the coaching process, storytelling can be very effective if it is reflective and makes it possible to expand the client’s awareness, supporting them in their evolutionary process of transformation. All the stories a client tells can be useful, it just depends on what the purpose of telling the story is and what the Coach does to integrate it with the client’s desired results.

1. The stories clients tell us

Active Listening is an essential skill, according to the ICF, defined “as the ability to focus on what the client is and is not saying in order to fully understand what is being communicated” – when active listening is activated it facilitates understanding far beyond what the client is saying.
Thus, valuable insights are gained by asking a client to share their stories and discover their “unspoken” motivations.

The Coach can extract a lot from clients by encouraging them to tell their stories and by listening to the way they are told, the process of telling and retelling the story brings new meanings and can give new directions to the client’s journey.
Storytelling can encourage the customer to see their mission and goals more clearly, to reflect on whether the goal is really theirs or someone else’s and, most importantly, to consider what they will do to achieve it: “What do you want to achieve by telling this story?”

By telling a story, the client may be able to assess their strengths and abilities, analyse different parts of the problem and overcome possible fears, “How are you going to achieve this?” They may also find encouragement and courage to believe more in themselves and their potential. “What did you get out of…!”
A simple question that can be very useful before a client tells their story: “What would you like me to hear when you tell your story?” This demonstrates partnership and the ability to listen deeply at the client’s service.

2. The stories told by coaches

Presence in Coaching is another essential competence, according to the ICF, defined as the ability to be fully aware and create a spontaneous relationship with the client, requiring attention, empathy and perception of the client as a whole. And this can be further realised when the Coach, without attachment, shares observations, ideas and feelings through stories.
Because one of the skills as a Coach is to listen to patterns, themes, emotions, hidden behaviours, values, motives and beliefs in order to facilitate discovery and learning, with the aim of evoking awareness, another competence of the Coaching process.

These stories should be beneficial and perceived by the client as metaphors, narratives that can help them to see problems in a different way, to be more receptive to change, with the potential to create new learning.
The art of storytelling in coaching is a robust communication tool, but it can’t be invasive and should provoke powerful reflections:

  • In what way did this story seem meaningful to you?
  • How did the plot or characters impact you?
  • What lessons have you learnt?
  • What similarities can you find between the story and your own?
  • What changes could this story bring about?


Whether a story is used by the Coach to illustrate a concept or by the Client to share ideas, it has an incredible variety of uses in a Coaching process. Stories and personal narratives clarify how the client sees their progress and desires, increase flexibility of thought, so that the Coach can delve deeper into topics and ask powerful questions. However, it is always up to the client to define how they interpret a story, with all their observations and possibilities.

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