For no-one is an island…

In social constructionist approaches to coaching, like the Solution Focused or Narrative Practice, we assume that we cannot look at our clients outside their context. We cannot pretend they are “islands”, monads, atoms, individuals without connections to their context. Their context consists of the interactions they have with other people, the stories they tell and the language and knowledges they assume as “normal”.

That’s the theory — but how can we integrate these contexts in our coaching? Here are a few ideas:

Perspective change questions

“If you made progress toward your preferred future, who would notice, what would they be noticing?”

Perspective change questions do two things: they help to describe small observable differences toward the preferred future, e.g. “My partner would notice that I am smiling in the morning.” They also situate the description of the desired state within a web of interactions and relationships. When something shifts toward the better, not only the client will “be better” but also the interactions around themselves.

Questions about “dominant stories”

“What gives this problem power?”, “What kind of worldview might you and others have been recruited into that…”

In Narrative Practice, the concept of “dominant stories” assumes a multiplicity of stories that can be told about any situation. We aim to help people to tell their stories in “ways that make them stronger”. Sometimes the context of a client shares a dominant story that disempowers our clients. For example, the context of an assertive woman might share the assumption that “being assertive” is not “feminine”. The client might suffer from interactions that dismiss her contributions. Asking “what gives this problem power” issues an invitation to look at the “dominant story” that is difficult and disempowering for the client. We might continue to invite the client to explore what relationship she wants to this dominant story: resist, integrate, correct, etc. and what different stories she would like to tell about herself. What difference would this story make and how might others respond to “living in this story”.

If you would like to explore coaching moves like these, why not come to our weekly free meetups and exchanges?