When someone is stuck, finding a forward metaphor and coaching with story can often be both liberating and revelatory. Here’s an example that involves a beautiful town and an even more beautiful Italian policeman. Try it in your coaching or supervision.
The woman was quietly exhausted by her struggle to move on after her organisation had been forced to close. She had worked there for twenty years and now, in a forced retirement, she was consumed by grief and inertia. For her, the past glittered and the future held nothing.
‘I can’t shift it,’ she said. ‘I feel like I pulled into a rest spot on a highway and now I can’t leave.’
With eyes firmly on the rear view mirror, she could only see from where she’d come. Why would she turn on the engine, take off the handbrake and drive off into who knows what?
In our session that day, I’d been scrambling for a way she could re-frame her situation and imagine a future. Her metaphor of the rest spot could be our starting point. It was gold.
‘So,’ I suggested ‘let’s imagine that the highway is in Tuscany, in Italy. The woman has pulled over because she wasn’t ready to leave the beautiful town where she’d had one of the best vacations of her life. She’s been stuck in that rest spot for hours, watching other winnebago’s come and go. In fact, she’s been there so long that she’s actually fallen into a sound sleep.
Suddenly there’s a rapping on the glass. Standing by her car is a good-looking police officer, an Italian George Clooney. As she winds down the window, he bends to see her more closely.
‘Buon giorno, Senorita,’ he lilts. ‘Can I ask, why are you here?’
She points to her rear vision mirror. The perfect town on the hill is now gold in the sunset. She sighs and tells him about her broken heart. He sighs right back. As an Italian he knows a lot about perfection… and broken hearts too.
‘Si, si … of course, it is buonissimo but senorita, please. You cannot stay here. Just ahead, ten kilometres, no more, is another town and it is very beautiful also.’ He closes his eyes as if picturing it and makes an attractive humming sound. ‘You must not leave Italia without seeing it. You would be very sorry.’
‘Really?’ she says hopefully. ‘Is it just as beautiful?’
He shrugs. ‘To be honest? Maybe not so much. It has not so many the beautiful views but the buildings, senorita? Frescos to make you weep!’
It is at this point that my client jumps in and takes hold of the story herself. She describes the rest spot with it’s ugly rubbish bins and the noise of other cars zooming past. She tells me about the full petrol gauge and imagines the woman can actually change her return flight and extend her holiday…
And suddenly the metaphor and the real life story come together as a conversation begins about possibility and change and holding expectation lightly.
Often, in times of transformation, we need to leave ‘what is’ and playfully imagine ‘what could be.’ Story is a great way to do that.
Before you go, try one of our favourite team engagement ideas, download The Sweet Spot. It’s free. It’s meaningful and it will bring your people closer.