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Coaching Across the Threshold: Coachee Case Study

January 17, 2019

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that for the last year, I’ve been part of Dr. David Drake’s Narrative Coaching Program. While I’m still very much getting my Narrative Coaching legs under me, it’s already brought a sense of ease, spontaneity and play to my work with coachees.

As part of the Narrative Coach Certification Program, we were asked to write up a case study of a session with a coachee in which we employed the Narrative Coach approach. As part of the case study, we were asked to:

1)      Describe the coaching space and the field

2)      Identify the stories and characters in the coachee’s story

3)      Provide session highlights, using Narrative Coaching’s four act structure

4)      Share the outcome of the session

5)      Provide reflections on the session

I’m sharing the case study here because of how rich it was for my learning. My learning about myself as a coach. My learning about my coachee. And my learning of Narrative Coaching and how it can be used to shift coachees’ experiences of themselves and their lives. I’m hopeful that it will stimulate your learning, as well.

First, a bit of background on my coachee in my case study, John, and our work together.


John is the CEO of a 2nd generation family business. John and I have worked together for about 12 years. Our work has covered business, personal, professional, social, philanthropic – pretty much every aspect of life.

Some background on John that’s relevant to this coaching session:

John loves to travel and has traveled with his family all over the world. He’s less able to travel now because of his family’s health challenges.

John’s wife is in the final days of treatment for her 2nd battle with cancer. It’s been an extraordinarily difficult time, for both of them. They have differed on the ideal approach to her treatment, creating some tension in their relationship.

John has had, for many years, a keen fascination with personalized medicine and is quite educated on many aspects of health, science, medicine and wellness.
John’s mother contracted a degenerative disease which ultimately took her life when John was young. His mother and father disagreed as to how to approach her disease, and that impacted their relationship.

Frankly, it wasn’t until I wrote this case study that I recognized how salient this last point was.

The Coaching Space and Field

John showed up for our coaching session worn down and worn out. He’d been traveling and his work had heated up while his duties at home had expanded to include chores his wife usually performed. His wife’s cancer had taken a physical and emotional toll on them both.

John was traveling and our coaching session was via phone. My sense was that he was in a quasi-private space initially and then after about ten minutes, he moved to a more private space. This was reflected in our conversation. Early on, John was tentative and stayed at the surface. Ten minutes into our conversation, he was connecting deeply with himself.

Over the course of the conversation, the field changed dramatically. Initially, the field felt tentative, surface. Then it shifted to heavy, burdened, untethered. Then, as John connected more fully to himself, the field held trust, vulnerability, and courage. Towards the end of the session, the field held discovery, possibility and wisdom. We flowed through an emotional journey, supported by the trust in the field.

In retrospect (and perhaps even in the moment), I sense that I shared too fully in John’s feeling of being simultaneously burdened, untethered and discouraged. (I was feeling that in areas of my own life.) Thus, at times, I feel that there was too much of me in the field. (A strong case for the classic coaching maxim, “You’ve got to do your own work before you can help your coachee with theirs!”)

Stories, Their Characters and My Roles

John told a specific story about taking a trip by himself to recharge his batteries, and coming back feeling empty instead of nourished. Only in hindsight am I recognizing that the main character in the story, besides John or his spouse or family, was Nelson Mandela.

The larger narrative of the session is about John’s questioning his life, his decisions, his priorities, his relationships, his future and himself. He’s concerned about his wife and their relationship. He’s questioning his parenting. And he’s in an unknown space and feeling lost.

I played the roles of empathetic friend, listener, witness, fellow life-traveler, Story Sherpa – the advocate for the whole story.

Session Highlights and Analysis Using Narrative Coaching Four Act Structure

The following is a high-level overview of the essence of the coaching session by Narrative Coaching (NC) Act/Phase. My primary intention with this session was to get more comfortable coaching in the Four Act structure.And in hindsight, I was so focused on working on the structure, I missed some pivotal opportunities to explore story and characters.

Below, I share the key questions I asked in each phase, what was explored, the threshold moment and my hindsight (what I see now that I didn’t see then).

I suspect when you read this, it will feel a bit like a caricature, which I suppose it is. It is the summary of the key lines of the coaching session that gave it shape. A lot more was going on, so this is only to give you the essence.

Also, if you’ve been coaching for any time at all, you might read this and think, “What’s the big deal?” And perhaps there is no big deal, except that the impact on me and my coachee was profound. We traveled an enormous distance together, very quickly. And we did it without goals, or contracts or agreements, and in a manner that was natural and organic.


When the conversation started, John stayed at the surface, so I asked:

Alison:  “How are you really?”

This dropped him into himself and he told the story that became the backbone of the session.

John was wanting to take care of himself so that he could take care of his family. So he took a trip alone that he’d planned to take with them. (Family couldn’t go because of health issues.)

John:  “I came back feeling empty and alone. It surprised me. It wasn’t fulfilling. I realize that I’m more interested in a shared experience.”

(As much as I wanted to ask him what would be fulfilling, which I would have done before NC, instead I used the threshold to stay with his present moment experience.)


Alison: “What’s it like to feel empty?”

John:  “I feel hollowed out. It’s not what I want. I’m not sure if what I’m feeling is the effects of the cancer on our family or something deeper.”

John shared about his fears and doubts and uncertainties. About not knowing when to push and when to let go in his relationships with his wife and his kids. About feeling impatient with himself and his life. (I sensed this conversation was hard for both of us).

(I took the feeling of impatience as a threshold and moved to Shift.)


Alison:   “What do you want?”

John:  “I don’t know. I just feel lost.”

(I made a decision to explore “lost” as a metaphor for this world traveler.)

Alison: “When you are lost, how do you usually find your way?”

John:  “I don’t know. I’m rarely lost.”

Alison:  “Really? How is that?”

John: “I can use nature and landmarks to orient myself and find my way. The sun, power lines, geography, terrain.”

Alison:  “What might you use to orient yourself now?”

John paused for a long time and started a new story about Nelson Mandela and how he’d spent years in prison, much of that time in solitary confinement. And how he came out so wise and thoughtful.

(I COMPLETELY missed an opportunity to explore Nelson Mandela’s role in the story. I could have asked, “How are you like Nelson Mandela?” or “What would Nelson Mandela say to you?” or “What did Nelson Mandela care about?” – UGH!)

John:  “He learned so much about himself.”

Alison:  “What would you like to learn about yourself?”

John:  “I’d like to be less reactive, more empathetic, more balanced.”


Alison:  “How would you learn that?

John:  “I’m not sure what my options are. I could find someone to help, like a therapist. I have trepidation about that. I could spend more time reading and journaling. that resonates. I can see this might be an opening, an opportunity for me to focus on myself.”

(Instead of nailing down the details of what he was going to do, like I normally would, I decided to circle the tree again.)

I’ll spare you the details and hit the high points here.


Alison:  “What are you aware of now?”

John:  “I’m seeing a path forward.”


Alison:  “Where does the path lead?”

John:  “To more time for myself?”


Alison: “How will you use that time?”

John:  “To grow into the person I want to become.”

(We were near the end of the session, so instead of exploring who he wanted to become further, I moved to Sustain.)


Alison:  “Where will you begin?”

John:  “I’m going to start by beginning my exercise routine again. Weights one time a week and running two times a week. I’m going to reflect and journal on what wisdom is and how I might become less reactive.”

Session Outcome

By the end of our session, John had found himself and a path forward and was feeling a greater sense of self-agency. The energetic quality of the field was dramatically lighter and more positive at the end of the session than at the start. He started the session feeling like a prisoner to his situation. He ended it feeling free.

Reflections and Reminders

I tend to focus more on what I could have done better, and I’m sure I must have done something OK to have gotten the outcome we did. These are my reflections:

1)      I could have done a lot more of simply naming what I was observing. His heaviness, the similarity of his current experience with his wife to that of his experience with his mom. How when he moved into a different room physically, he moved into a different part of himself.

2)      Only upon LOTS of reflection on this session has it become clear to me that too much of me was in the field, not only because I was feeling somewhat enmeshed, but also because I feel the same way he does in some of my relationships.

3)      I was so focused on the Four Act Structure, I missed some obvious opportunities to explore stories, metaphors and characters. And once the 4 S’s become more ingrained, I’ll have more freedom to explore what shows up organically.


We’ve learned in Learning in Action’s EQ Certification training that objectively mirroring a coachee’s experience without the expectation of response is an incredibly powerful awareness practice. In light of that, I sent John the case study I wrote up on our session. This was John’s response, in italics:

“Your description of “The Field” was spot on:”

“Initially, the field felt tentative, surface. Then it shifted to heavy, burdened, untethered. Then, as John connected more fully to himself, the field held trust, vulnerability, and courage. Towards the end of the session, the field held discovery, possibility and wisdom. And I sense that I shared too fully in John’s sense of feeling simultaneously burdened, untethered and discouraged.”

“I might argue the last, though… your empathy helped me connect disconnected thoughts and synthesize a new path forward. Without that, I’m not sure it would’ve been as effective.

“Your idea about my Mom was interesting… it’s certainly possible, but I haven’t been consciously aware of that. I have been consciously thinking about walking a mile in my father’s footsteps, though. He had a very difficult road to travel – with decisions and feelings I could only guess at before (and didn’t very well). As always and especially as to this session, which I found deeply helpful, I’m appreciative of you.”

John and I had a coaching session this week and he was a different man! He was energized, engaged and joyful. When I asked him what shifted about his experience, he said he went from “being steered” to “steering.” And he attributed the shift to this session.

Of all of the second-guessing I do and the wondering if I make a difference with my coachees, it was nice to hear that the many hours I’ve spent in the last year learning a new approach to coaching, made a difference. Even if I’m still on my Narrative Coaching Bambi legs.


If you’d like to learn more about Narrative Coaching, join us for this month’s free podinar (interactive webinar), sponsored by Learning in Action. Our guest is the founder of the field of Narrative Coaching, Dr. David Drake. Register here. 


Join the conversation.

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~ Alison
Alison Whitmire
President | Learning in Action


P.S. Want to receive our blogs in your inbox? Subscribe to our Friday Conversations Blog.


P.S. As a coach, you know there’s value in your coachees’ stories. But do you realize how transformative those stories could be with your specialized guidance? Find out at our January podinar. Our guest is executive coach, speaker, author, and founder of the field of Narrative Coaching, Dr. David Drake. Interactive webinar Jan. 25, 11:00-12:00 PT / 2:00-3:00 ET.  Register – free!


Not an EQ Profile practitioner? 
Click here for information on the EQ Profile. Too much to chew on? Click here for a Taste of the EQ Profile.

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Posted in: Coaching|Emotional Intelligence|Narrative Coaching

Once Upon A Time: The Power of Story in Coaching

October 18, 2018


Last Friday, I was delighted to be joined by some amazing coaches for an impromptu meetup to discuss the power of story in coaching. (I was reminded of how very much I love this work we do, as well as this community we get to be a part of. 🙂 )

In this blog, I share with you some of what I’m coming to believe about the role of my coachees’ stories in our coaching. I’m no authority, and though I’m in the Narrative Coaching certification program, I’m a novice. So what I share here is what I’m coming to believe and integrate into my own work. And I offer it as an invitation for you to consider what’s possible and what might be available if you were to look at your own coachees’ stories in a new light.


How We Can Minimize the Value of Coachee Stories

When I was first trained to be a coach, I was taught the technique of “bottom lining.”  Bottom lining was a way of encouraging coachees to “get to the point” when their stories went too long. When a coachee showed up to coaching with a big, long, detailed story, we were to interject with a question like “What’s the bottom line to your story?” or “What’s the CNN version of your story?”  

At the time, bottom lining made sense to me. We coaches didn’t need all that detail. After all, we only have so much time. And long stories can take up a lot of it. We needed to achieve the coachee’s stated desired outcome by the end of the session to be successful. Right? So, helping the coachee “get to the point” in any way we could, was in the service of the coachee, in the service of the coaching.

But what if the story WAS the point?


The Hero’s Journey

In 2013, I organized a TEDx conference. In the formative stages of conference planning, I was struggling to articulate a theme that conveyed the message I hoped for the conference to share.  I wanted it to be about reaching our full human potential and becoming fully expressed. But it all sounded so “woowoo” and trite. 

Then, my husband sent me a link to the trailer for the film, Finding Joe, based upon the work of Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey. (Somehow, Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey had escaped my attention for 50+ years.) And, when I watched the trailer and later the movie, I knew I had my theme. (If you aren’t familiar with The Hero’s Journey, watch the two-minute film clip linked above. It’ll do a better job of explaining it in a shorter period of time and more interestingly than I will.)

So what does the Hero’s Journey have to do with coaching?

I’ve come to believe that The Hero’s Journey reflects the life journey we all are on. We are on the transformational journey of becoming – becoming a full expression of ourself, our potential.  And the integrational story of our return to our core essence – of overcoming our patterns of adaptation (like those captured in the EQ Profile). A journey of discovery of self and a returning home to self. A journey of transformation.

If the findings of Joseph Campbell, based upon his extensive research into the world’s legends, myths and folklore, are true, (and I believe they are), then perhaps our stories are more than just stories. Perhaps our stories are a vehicle to our transformation. 

Storytelling is Organic

My coachees show up telling stories in our coaching sessions. I don’t ask them to bring their stories, they just do. I used to ask them to bottom line it or I’d get frustrated because their stories were getting in the way of the goals they said they wanted to achieve. Recently, I’ve begun to believe that my coachees’ stories are their conscious and/or unconscious way of revealing their true desires.

Also, I’ve noticed how frequently my coachees show up with stories that possess all of the pieces of the solution they are seeking. And when I listen long enough and closely enough to their stories, and simply mirror back what they are saying, they often experience a kind of “Eureka” moment. They see how the dots of their stories connect to form the picture they were searching for.  

So, if storytelling itself is a process of becoming, of self expression, of return to core essence, and if coachees naturally show up to coaching with stories that possess the seeds of their solutions, perhaps our role (or one of them) as coaches is to facilitate the organic transformation and integration that has already begun in the form of the story. To assist the story in doing its work. 

How do we do that?


The Power of Story in Coaching

Within the story itself and within the coachee’s experience of telling the story are the clues to what the story is wanting to do. And by attending to the experience of the coachee as they are telling the story, and to the characters, metaphors, and language in the story, and to each stage of the journey of the story, we can guide the coachee to the resolution their story is seeking. 


Coachee Experience

Noticing and exploring the coachee’s experience as they are telling the story can sometimes reveal more than any questions we might ask. We are all taught this in coaching school and it’s easy to forget – how much a sigh, a change in posture, a glistening in the eye can clue us to shifts in the coachee’s internal experience.  

When we notice these subtle shifts and explore them with our coachees, they can notice aspects of their experience that were previously missing – feelings or sensations that might be suppressed or outside of their awareness. (If you are interested in reading an example of how this plays out in a coaching session, read more here


Characters, Metaphors, Language

Our coachees’ stories provide a rich cache of resources to help them “slay their dragons.” The characters in the stories have wisdom and perspective for them. The metaphors in their stories suggest the tools that will help them navigate challenging terrain. The language they use reveals the lens through which they are seeing their challenge/opportunity.

Playing with characters, metaphors and language can be really fun and invigorating for both coach and coachee. And these approaches to coaching are simple to apply and can create surprisingly fast and robust outcomes. Here are links for examples for playing with charactersmetaphors and language.


Stage of the Journey

Just like in the Hero’s Journey, our coachees’ stories have stages. And helping our coachee experience and identify each state in the journey provides its own form of wayfinding for the coachee.  

Questions the coach can be asking themselves as they work with their coachees’ stories include:

  1. What is the coachee’s experience as they are telling the story? (What is the unfulfilled desire?)
  2. What is the purpose of the story? (What is the unexpressed intention?)
  3. What is the challenge in the story? (What is the unexamined identity?)
  4. What is the invitation in the story? (What is the undemonstrated behavior?)
  5. What is the resolution to the story? (What is the unapologetic outcome?)

Note: These questions are taken from Dr. David Drake’s Narrative Coaching.

When we as coaches are curious about these questions, we will allow for deeper and deeper levels of awareness of the unconscious role of the story for the coachee.


I hope you try out some of these techniques with your coachees. Our coaching can sometimes be so linear and/or so cerebral that it can be fun and healthy and energizing to try something new and see what happens.  

Sure, it takes courage. But hey, you’re a coach. We already know you have courage!

What are your thoughts and experiences in trying these techniques? I’d love to know!  

Be one of the first seven people to comment on this blog and we’ll send you a DVD of the Finding Joe film.

Join the conversation.

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– Alison
Alison Whitmire
President | Learning in Action


P.S. Want to receive our blogs in your inbox? Subscribe to our Friday Conversations Blog.

P.P.S. Want to learn more about what the languaging used in your coachees’ stories can tell you? Join our virtual video course, Insight Mapping – or get the unedited recordings of the course afterward! Click here for details and to register.


Not an EQ Profile practitioner? 
Click here for information on the EQ Profile. Too much to chew on? Click here for a Taste of the EQ Profile.

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Posted in: Coaching|Narrative Coaching

Five of the Most Useful Narrative Coach Tools, Concepts, Frameworks

October 4, 2018

Who doesn’t love a simple, yet powerful, coaching tool?!

I’m always looking for fresh approaches and elegant frameworks for helping my coachees navigate their personal journey. And the WBEC’s Narrative Coach (NC) program with Dr. David Drake provided a virtual treasure trove of tools, conceptual constructs, and frameworks for working with coachees and their stories in a unique and insightful way. I’ve seen an enormous number of tools in my 15 years of coaching, and the one’s I’ll share here, I’ve found to be easy to understand, extraordinarily clarifying and simple to implement.

This is the third and final blog post related to my reflection on the NC Program. In Part 1, I shared the insights I gained about myself as a coach while experiencing the program. In Part 2, I shared the assumptions about coaching that have shifted for me. Here I’ll share the five pieces of content from the program that I found most valuable, and why I believe they are so useful.

Note: 100% of this content was created by Dr. David Drake and should you choose to share this with clients or create your own version (as we coaches love to do), please ensure you give proper credit to Dr. David Drake and Narrative Coaching. Also, I did my best to distill the essence of the tool without taking too many liberties or short cuts. And for the exact words, questions and context, buy his book and/or take the course.

You’ll discover that all of these simple tools and approaches meet the coachee where they are and focus on their story as a generative aspect of the coaching. Many of these tools may feel familiar, and you’ll notice an emphasis on the coachee’s present moment experience, the stories they tell and the identity of the coachee in their stories.


Rewinding Your Story


This is my fave of all of the tools because it links so beautifully with the EQ Profile. When we are preparing a coachee for the session in which we’ll debrief their EQ Profile results, we ask them to recall and bring to the session 2-3 specific stories of interpersonal conflicts. We use the narrative in the coachee’s stories to map to the patterns revealed in their EQ Profile. The EQ Profile reveals patterns of thinking, feeling, wanting, sensing and focusing that are vestiges of adaptive strategies spawned by our lifetime of relationships and experiences.

These default patterns become a common denominator of many of our interpersonal conflicts until we become aware of them, and create new, more conscious ways of being and behaving.

This simple, yet powerful tool supports the coachee in reflecting on the stories they tell about interpersonal conflicts and the patterns which may be inherent within them. Further, it facilitates the development of a new, more intentional pattern that supports who and how the coachee wants to be.

Here’s a simplified version of the tool and how we might use it with ourself or our coachees:


Reflect on a conversation or situation you find challenging:


1)      What did you observe? (Describe your experience as a reporter would.)

2)      What were you telling yourself at the time? (What was your internal narrative or story?)

3)      What does this say about how you see yourself? (How does it support your identity?)

4)      What did you do as a result? (How did you behave?)

5)      What happened in the end? (What was the outcome?)


Rewind the story to achieve a different outcome:


1)      What would you like to have had happen in the end? (What outcome would you wish for?)

2)      What could you have done differently as a result? (How could you have behaved differently to create your desired outcome?)

3)      What would need to shift in how you see yourself to achieve a different outcome? (What would your identity need to be to behave in alignment with what you want?)

4)      What could you tell yourself next time this happens? (What is the new story you could tell yourself that would support your identity and desired outcome?)

5)      What would you observe if ‘this’ were the case?  (What would your new experience be?)


I hear an echo of the Ladder of Inference in the first half, to be sure. And the second half is a kind of walking back down the Ladder. And adding the question about identity amps up the insight that’s available here. It takes this set of questions from simply an examination of the stories we make up to who we are that we make up these stories.

The second half starts with classic Covey, beginning with the end in mind (but how often do we actually do that in the middle of an interpersonal conflict?). And this begins the intentional process of re-patterning our seeing, thinking, being and doing to align with what we want.

Circling the Tree


One of the big differences I’m noticing about Narrative Coaching and how I’ve learned to coach is the bias toward examining the coachee’s present moment experience. (Of course, that’s an aspect of most all coaching, and my sense is that Narrative Coaching gives it more weight and returns to it more frequently).

Circling the Tree is an example of a tool that moves the coachee forward simply by staying with, and exploring, their present moment experience. Here’s a simplified version:


Circle One

1)      What happened?  (Just give the facts.)

2)      What do you think about it? (What’s your narrative of what happened?)

3)      How do you feel about it? (Notice and name the feelings you have about what happened.)

4)      What is important about it to you? (Talk about your values.)

5)      How has it affected you? (Share the impact on you and what that means for you.)


Circle Two

1)      What is true and important for you now?

2)      What is your motivation to do it differently?

3)      How will you remember this new story?

4)      What else do you need to get started?

5)      How will you know you have been successful?

Notice how all of the questions in Circle One are about the coachee’s present experience (about a past experience). There’s nothing about what the coachee wants to be different or where they want to go or what they want to create – all aspects that are often at the front of so many coaching models.

Notice how Circle Two stays with what’s present for the coachee to organically generate what new wants to emerge.

While I love this tool, a question is missing for me in Circle Two between 2 and 3. I think I would add: “What would be a new story that would support what you want for yourself?”

Circling the Tree is actually a lot like the Rewind Tool. Both give our coachees a way to examine their internal narrative relative to what they want for themselves. And the Circling the Tree stays more with what’s present for the coachee now.


Inquiry Cards


I LOVE LOVE LOVE this NC game of ‘serious play.’

1)      Bring a stack of 7-10 index cards to a coaching session.

2)      Invite your coachee to talk about her issue or question.

3)      As she does, write the words or phrases that carry the most weight or energy on to the index cards.

4)      Give the cards to the coachee and invite her to place the cards in the order represented by the story.

5)      Then, invite the coachee to move the cards to a new configuration and notice what comes up.

6)      Invite the coachee to continue to experiment until the resolution becomes clear.

7)      Invite the coachee to imagine what it would be like and what it would take to live from this place.

8)      Invite the coachee to talk about the implications of the outcome and anchor it as needed.


I can’t wait to try this. Sounds like fun.


Vectors of Change: BEAM


This is probably the first tool I started using almost as soon as I learned of it. It feels simpler and more inclusive than many other models of change I’ve worked with. Again, this is a simplified version:

As your coachee presents a challenge they are having, work with them to identify what they want and articulate their old story about the challenge. Then work with them to create a new story that surmounts the challenge.


1)      What is their Aspiration – what they are wanting ultimately (What would make them proud?)


What is the Coachee’s Old Story – Rooted in their Mindset, Behavior and Environment related to the challenge


2)      What is their current Mindset  – what do they think, feel, believe about themselves, others, the situation

3)      What is their current Behavior – what are they doing or not doing that is contributing to the challenge

4)      What is their Environment – what systems, structures, people, processes are contributing to the challenge


What can be the Coachee’s New Story – Aligned with their Aspiration


5)      What Mindset aligns with the Aspiration – what do they believe about the situation that feels both true and aligned with their aspiration

6)      What Behavior aligns with the Aspiration – what might they do that aligns with their Mindset and Aspiration

7)      What Environment aligns with the Aspiration – what systems, structures, people, processes will support the coachee’s Aspiration


I’ve seen a number of similar models and this Vectors of Change model feels more complete and integrated than any I’ve seen. And it’s so simple.


Five Perspectives


This simple tool is useful when a coachee is stuck and unable to see their situation in a new way. It allows them to try on someone or something else’s perspective of their situation. I often suggest “characters” from my coachee’s stories to offer their perspective. This tool goes something like this:


1)      Listen attentively when your coachee shares a challenging situation. Explore the coachee’s thinking, feeling, wanting and believing about themselves, others and the situation.

2)      Ask your coachee, “What is another perspective you could take?”  Explore what that perspective enables them to see, feel, think, believe.

3)      Continue asking “What is another perspective you could take?” Don’t be afraid to be creative here.

4)      Unpack each perspective by asking questions like:

  1.       Why this way of seeing things?
  2.       How does seeing it this way impact you?
  3.       How else could you see it?
  4.       What do you gain from seeing it this way?
  5.       What keeps you from considering this possibility?
  6.        What do you lose by seeing it this way?
  7.       What might you gain if you did?


I integrated a version of this into my work pretty quick. Here’s a brief example of how I’ve used this:


My coachee was expressing doubt that she was the best person to be running her company. As we explored her situation more deeply, she talked about her husband, her family and God. When she felt complete with her story, I asked:

“What would your husband say to your question about whether or not you’re the best person to be running your company?”

She said that he believes in her and her ability to run the company completely. I went on to ask:

“What would your family say?”

She reported that they felt much like her husband. And then I asked her:

“What would God say?”

and she began to cry.

The bottom line is that simple questions about the perspectives of people and entities important to her helped her fill in what was missing in her own perspective so that she could see her situation and herself more clearly.

I hope you find these tools as useful as I have. I’d love to hear what additional questions or comments you have. And if any of this needs more context, let me know. I’ll do what I can to provide it.


Do you have favorite tools you love? If so, let me know. If I get enough interest, I’ll do another blog on favorite tools.   

Join the conversation.

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– Alison
Alison Whitmire
President | Learning in Action


P.S. Want to receive our blogs in your inbox? Subscribe to our Friday Conversations Blog.


P.P.S. Do you struggle to understand your coachees sometimes? Do they struggle to express themselves in ways you both understand? The answers are all in their languaging. And there’s a course for that. 🙂 Join us for our virtual video course, Insight Mapping. Learn how to listen for the clues that are right in front of you. (And no, neither you nor your coachees need to know anything about the EQ Profile – although this course will enlighten those who use it, too!)  Click here for details and to register.


Not an EQ Profile practitioner? 
Click here for information on the EQ Profile. Too much to chew on? Click here for a Taste of the EQ Profile.

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What Learning about My Coachees’ Narratives Taught Me about My Own – Part 2

September 20, 2018

What are you sure you know about coaching? I thought I knew a lot about coaching after 15 years and over 5,000 hours of experience. And in the past year or so, I’ve realized that a lot of what I thought I knew, my assumptions, were horse S#$%.

In my last blog post, I shared Part 1 of a reflection assignment due as part of the WBECS Narrative Coach (NC) Program with Dr. David Drake. In this Part 2, I share how what I thought I knew about coaching has been turned on its head by my experience with Narrative Coaching.

Five Assumptions about Coaching That Have Shifted For Me

All of my coach training prior to the NC Program has been in a largely co-active approach to coaching, firmly grounded in ICF core competencies. And while Narrative Coaching certainly doesn’t throw the ICF competencies out the window, it takes a very different approach to coaching than what I’ve learned in the past.

What I’ve learned about coaching that I’ve had to unlearn (or assumptions I no longer make) include:

  • Coaching starts with a contract/agreement. Early on in my coach training, I learned that the first thing to do as a coach is figure out the contract or what it is the coachee wants. The problem is, in my experience anyway, the coachee almost never knows what they truly want until it’s uncovered by the coaching. And when I’ve focused early in the relationship or early in the coaching session on getting to what the coachee wants, I’ve ended up chasing a red-herring, spending time at the surface and/or on the wrong thing.  I’ve learned that what the coachee says they want is only one aspect (and maybe a small one) of their larger, deeper desire, which is only ultimately discovered through the work.

Even in the Advanced Coaching Program I took, we spent a great deal of time and energy around securing the coaching session agreement by checking the boxes of Topic, Desired Outcome, Meaningful Underlying Issue and Success Measure. And I bought into that at the time, and to an extent, I still do. Only now it feels more like an artificial structure placed on an organic process. (More on that below).

  • Coachees will do what they say if we’ve designed the actions right. Maybe your coachees are different, but mine almost never do what they say they are going to do after the session. While this didn’t take me long to figure out, I assumed I was doing something wrong. I wasn’t designing the action specifically enough or ensuring the client had enough support or addressing enough of their obstacles or holding them accountable enough or making the actions S.M.A.R.T. enough. Well, I now believe I was doing something wrong, I was just wrong about what it was.  😊

Now, instead of designing actions for the coachee to take after the session, we do it in the coaching session (as much as possible). (If you read Part 1, you know that this is a cornerstone of Narrative Coaching). Early on in my coaching, I did a lot of role play with coachees, but it was discouraged by my mentor coaches (not clear now why), so I stopped. Now, I’m doing a lot more acting out, role play, experimentation during my coaching sessions so that my coachees can repeat/replay outside the session what they are experiencing and learning inside the session. (Here’s an example of something I tried recently.)

  • The coach provides the structure and the process. The coachee provides the content. To an extent, I still believe this – and now I see it differently. I used to feel responsible for figuring out the most robust and efficient series of questions that would bring the coachees the insights, clarity and resolution they were seeking, based upon what they said they wanted. Now, that feels to me like an artificial construct placed on a natural process.

These days, I see coaching as the facilitation of an innately organic process. I believe that our coachees are all almost always, consciously or unconsciously, working to resolve what they bring to coaching (that’s what brings them to coaching). And my role isn’t to lead them down the path of questions that will ultimately get them to their answer.  My role is to be present with them, see them, explore with them where they find themselves and then remain alert for the indications of where, why and how they are wanting to move from where they are to a new state of being.

  • Better questions make for better coaching. While I believe this is true to an extent, I’m no longer so focused on how to figure out the right, best questions. Because when I focus on figuring out the questions, I’m in my head and not with my coachee. I’m not present. I now believe that it is greater presence that makes for better coaching. The more present, the more in the moment, I can be with my coachee, the more I can attend to, encourage and facilitate the coachee’s own organic progress.
  • Coaching is a dance with the coachee…. and the coach leads. No one ever told me this. It’s just what I “learned,” especially in my early years, through coach training osmosis. In recent years, I’ve observed that the traditional co-active approach to coaching is placing greater emphasis on partnering with the coachee. That feels like a welcome and significant shift from what I first “learned.”

That said, my understanding from those coach trainings has been that even though we want to partner with the coachee (just like in a dance), the coach is still supposed to lead. And the way the coach leads is through their questions. And where the coach leads is where the coachee says they want to go. But if the coachee doesn’t truly know where they want to go…… where are we leading them?

In my prior coach trainings, as if to emphasize the importance of partnering with the coachee, the coach trainers would recommend frequently checking in with the coachee to determine if the coaching is on track and/or where they want the coaching to go. That made sense to me at the time.

But here’s the deal: In my experience, not only do my coachees not consciously know what they want, they are often resistant to directly confronting the challenge ahead of them. And if I ask them where they want to go, they will often avoid exactly where their organic process is taking them.   

So what’s the answer?  If we are not leading and we are not partnering, what the heck are we doing?

For that, you’ll have to wait for Part 3 (and hopefully in the next week, I’ll figure it out).  🙂

Join the conversation.

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– Alison
Alison Whitmire
President | Learning in Action


P.S. Want to receive our blogs in your inbox? Subscribe to our Friday Conversations Blog.


P.P.S. Are there more blank spaces on your coaching calendar than you’d like? Join Chip Carter, Senior Advisor at the Institute of Coaching, and Alison Whitmire, president of Learning in Action, for September’s interactive webinar of discussion and Q&A around your coaching capacity and how you can fill your calendar in a number of ways, including coaching for organizations who need you!  Register here – FREE.    


Not an EQ Profile practitioner? 
Click here for information on the EQ Profile. Too much to chew on? Click here for a Taste of the EQ Profile.

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What Learning about My Coachees’ Narratives Taught Me about My Own – Part 1

September 13, 2018

Last year, I registered for WBECS’ Narrative Coach Program with Dr. David Drake. I had been hearing about David and Narrative Coaching and was curious about how we might apply his approach to help coachees make meaning of their EQ Profile results.

For the uninitiated: The EQ Profile provides a snapshot of one’s internal experience under stress in relationship. It reveals the patterns of thinking, feeling, and wanting that are triggered within us during interpersonal conflict. And because we often aren’t fully aware of our internal experience, it can sometimes be challenging to relate to our EQ Profile results.

After debriefing EQ Profile results with hundreds of coachees, I’ve learned that we are all, always narrating our internal experience (whether we are aware of it or not).   And one of the best ways of helping a coachee see the aspects of their internal experience that are hidden to them is to ask them to tell a story about a specific interpersonal conflict.

I’ve found that as I listen deeply to a coachee’s story, I can hear the dimensions of their EQ Profile in their language. (Which is what our Master Class: Insight Mapping course is all about.) Because this is now second nature to me, I was curious what more I could learn about a coachee and their story through Narrative Coaching. And learn more I did.

Narrative Coach Reflection Assignment

I’m now moving from the Enhanced Narrative Coach program to the Certification program, and one of the first assignments is as follows:

“Write a letter to a friend who coaches about what you learned in the Narrative Coach program, in which you share:

  • Five important insights you gained about yourself as a coach
  • Five important assumptions about coaching that shifted for you
  • Five important pieces of content that made a difference for you
  • Five important ways in which you are a better coach now
  • Five important growth edges for you in taking this work forward
  • How you would describe narrative coaching and the impact it has”


This gives you a pretty good sense of what the first seven months of the Narrative Coaching (NC) Program were like.  Exhaustive and exhausting. And incredibly rich, brilliant and challenging.

While I entered the NC Program to learn more about how we could help coachee’s make meaning of their EQ Profile results, what I came away with was a dramatically different view of coaching overall.   

In Narrative Coaching, I’ve found a much more organic, natural approach to working with coachees that feels less formulaic than what I’d been taught previously.

I’d like to share with you what I learned from the NC program, so you are now my “friend who coaches”.  😊 And because I want to stay friends, I’m not going to cover all of the bulleted items above.  And I’ll cover several of them over the course of this multi-part post.  I hope you find it useful.

Five Insights I Gained About Myself as a Coach

The NC program began at a particularly challenging time for me. A month or so into the program, my father passed away. And while my dad’s passing was incredibly hard, the aftermath was even harder. (Perhaps one day, when I have some perspective on it, I’ll write a blog post about it.)  

The birth of my understanding of Narrative Coaching came at the time of the death of not only my father, but also a part of my identity. (And I’m still wrestling with that.)

So all of that is context for what I learned about myself, as a coach, as a human, over the duration of the NC Program. Also, it had been a while since I’d stepped back and observed myself as a coach, so that is reflected here, as well.

The insights I gained about myself as a coach during the NC program include:

  • I am who I say to myself I am. And that’s true about myself as a coach and in every other aspect of my life. If I say to myself that I’m not enough as a coach, that I’m not creating enough value for clients, that I can never be worth what they pay me, then that will be true for me. And I will embody that identity. I will stay small. And safe. And fortunately, the opposite is also true. If I say to myself, “I am enough and everything I need lies in the space created by my client and me,” then that will be true. And it opens up more possibilities for both of us.
  • Forming a secure attachment with my clients is my first priority as a coach. When I’m able to form a secure attachment with a client, our relationship becomes the safe haven in which they show up as themselves and are seen and accepted. Our relationship creates the secure base from which they safely explore new territory. And our work can help them create new mental models that support their self-development. And while we at Learning in Action have been talking about attachment theory for more than a decade as it relates to the EQ Profile, only through the NC program have I been able to see how clearly the concept of secure attachment applies to my coaching.
  • Empathy, along with objectivity, will serve my client best. When my client is distressed, I can feel it so palpably that I can lose my boundary and my objectivity. Frankly, when I’m not conscious of it, I can lose my full ability to self-regulate. And then, I’m not much good to my client. And when I can empathize to the point of attuning to my client, while maintaining my boundary and objectivity and ability to self-regulate, my client can feel felt and seen and held in that space in a way that is generative for them. (Says easy, does hard. Still a work in progress for me.)
  • My curiosity will help my clients more than my knowing. I generally consider myself to be more curious than assumptive as a coach. However, I’ve been realizing how readily I assume I know what my client means by what they say. Since NC, I’ve been paying much closer attention to the language my clients are using and how they are using it. In particular, I’ve begun playing much more with the languages and metaphors my clients use, helping them to tease out their meaning and exploring their potential as a vehicle for experimentation and solution creation. (If you’re curious about an example of this, you can read about it here.) 
  • I can bring lightness to my coaching through play. I tend to be a fairly serious sort. And pretty much all of my clients want to have more fun.. (Me, too!) And I’ve been challenged to figure out how to do that and “get the work done!” Narrative Coaching encourages what David calls “serious play,”  He describes “serious play” as “both an attitude and an activity” which allows coachees to experiment, play, make mistakes, start over, engage all aspects of themselves, and try on something new – all in a safe, encouraging environment. It worked. I experimented with some “serious play” in the example of exploration of the metaphor mentioned above. Midway through, my client exclaimed, “Now, this is fun!”

Having a client feel like our work is fun is its own reward. Because when my clients are having fun, they are experiencing something different, something new, and they are more likely to see something different and new about their situation and themselves.

I hope that my reflections about me encourage you to reflect on you. Because what I get about you, my partners and colleagues in this noble work we do, is that you, like me, want to be better, do better, learn more, love more, be more for your coachees. And that can only be good for us, our coachees, and the ripple effects on the world.

Stay tuned for Part 2 next week on Reflections on Narrative Coaching. Until then, have fun!

Join the conversation. 

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– Alison
Alison Whitmire
President | Learning in Action


P.S. Want to receive our blogs in your inbox? Subscribe to our Friday Conversations Blog.


P.P.S. Are there more blank spaces on your coaching calendar than you’d like? Join Chip Carter, Senior Advisor at the Institute of Coaching, and Alison Whitmire, president of Learning in Action, for September’s interactive webinar of discussion and Q&A around your coaching capacity and how you can fill your calendar in a number of ways, including coaching for organizations who need you!  Register here – FREE.    


Not an EQ Profile practitioner? 
Click here for information on the EQ Profile. Too much to chew on? Click here for a Taste of the EQ Profile.

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Posted in: Coaching|Emotional Intelligence|Narrative Coaching