Storytelling: Is Sharing a More Effective Health Coaching Method?

I joined a small business group a few weeks ago. In an effort to network and connect with my community, I thought it would be a good move. I had heard great things from friends who are also involved and decided to take the plunge. The group’s appeal is that it offers support for professionals in a unique way. Members are prohibited from telling others how to overcome challenges, but must share related personal experiences. The group learns from the stories of members rather than engaging in a ‘should, would, could’ conversation.

I have to admit, at first I was skeptical of the format of the group. How could other individuals working outside of my industry relate to the challenges of a career in healthcare? It turns out, the structure of the conversation was far more helpful than I had imagined. And, the experiences other members shared, while not related to the medical field, were quite applicable.

If you’ve ever listened to an effective or motivating public speaker, chances are that much of the presentation involved sharing stories. Most TED talks, for example, include a significant experience sharing element. These experiences lend power and truth to the message of the speaker.

Similarly, sharing stories does several things in a conversation where giving advice would normally take place. First, it allows help to be offered in a no judgment, low-risk format. By sharing an experience, you aren’t telling the other party directly what to do and subsequently risk giving bad advice. The individual on the listening end doesn’t feel judged or threatened by the advice you give as, after all, you are simply sharing an applicable situation you personally experienced.

Taking an indirect approach to offering advice makes the individual on the receiving end more likely to reflect on what you have shared. It challenges the person’s limits in a way that motivates rather than leads to defensiveness. Experiences give a new perspective in a non-confrontational manner.

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Sure, sharing advice and knowledge isn’t always practical. Relating experiences takes time. It may be too indirect or time consuming for some situations. Giving a window into your personal life isn’t always advisable. However, I can’t help but think that a little more experience sharing could be beneficial in patient care.

In interacting with my patients I often fall into a ‘should do, need to’ mindset. I list a set of directives, instructions, or advice. While such conversations can be helpful, my patients leave overwhelmed, forgetting much of what I said. Stories are more memorable. Making healthy lifestyle changes isn’t easy. A list of directives won’t typically do the trick when it comes to motivating your patients. Sharing a quick story about how you personally overcame a health challenge or made a healthy change, however, just might.

If you are a nurse practitioner working in a health promotion role (most of us do!), think of a few personal stories or experiences of others that relate to challenges your patients often face. Avoid over-sharing, of course. Master telling the short version of the story so you can effectively integrate it as a motivational tool in your patient interactions.

Do you find storytelling to be a more effective method of health coaching than a list of dos and don’ts? 


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