Once upon a time…a long, long time ago…
Tell a few more lines and then look carefully, what’s happening to your listener? What happens when we tell a story. It’s a kind of magic really, and amazingly, it happens from the very first few words. Do you know what I’m talking about? Have you noticed it happen?
Let me try and describe it for you. There is a kind of shift, a sort of melting into themselves and relaxation. Let’s get more specific. When people hear someone start to tell a story, they relax and lean back. They may take off their glasses or loosen their tie. Some people instinctively take off their shoes (though not usually in the boardroom!). There is a connection between the feeling we get when we start to listen to a story and the memory and sensation of a time and place of great comfort. This is a kind of magic. Undoubtedly, the story space is not only a place of comfort, it is also a place that feels safe.
Traditionally, stories are told to children, often at bedtime but also as a quiet and reflective activity. Usually we tell children stories in order to calm, enthuse and teach; we also tell stories to inspire and to pass on values and cultural knowledge. As adults, when we are told a story, it reconnects us to that place of calm, to a more predictable world where the outcome is most likely to be a happy ending! It is no wonder that people love stories and that stories create a safe space.
Creating a safe space is an important part of building the coaching relationship. It is crucial that the client feel comfortable and learn to trust the coach. In fact, the coaching relationship is dependent upon there being trust and honesty between the coach and the client. If this is to happen, the client must feel that they are in a safe space.
‘A good story induces a form of trance. The next time you say “I want to tell you a little story…” watch what happens. People will shift around to get comfortable, lean back, open their eyes, and some will even slack their jaws. Story induces an altered state of awareness…’ according to Annette Simmons in The Story Factor.
This ‘altered state of awareness’ creates a wonderful shift towards building trust between the coach and client and providing a safe environment to work in. So, how do we create a safe space? Some of the ways we can do this is by ensuring the space itself is private and undisturbed. We need to make sure that there are no physical interruptions, including switching off mobile phones. Another way we can create a safe space is by starting and ending sessions on time and thus respecting time limitations. We create safety and trust by practicing active and intent listening skills. But the most powerful way to create a safe space is to use Storytelling.
Once upon a time…in a land far, far away….relax, take it easy – and let’s find your happy ending!
For more on Storytelling, Coaching and the application for Business and Organizations, check out the program ‘Cinderella and the Coach – the Power of Storytelling for Coaching Success!’