The Storytelling Coach & 2 Stories

This coaching model is unusual in that it is designed for a particular domain - storytelling. It was developed by Doug Lipman in his work as a Storytelling Coach and, whilst directed at coaching people to be successful storytellers, it can also be applied more generally.


Lipman uses a four-part coaching structure. In decreasing order of importance the four parts are listen, give appreciations, give suggestions, and finally meet any remaining goals.

  • Listening: Listening is the most powerful tool in this approach, its importance being emphasised by the claim that active, sympathetic listening provides 80% of the coaching benefit. Indeed, in some sessions, listening may be all that the coach needs to do. It is also the lowest risk intervention.
  • Appreciating: is the next most powerful tool. It provides about 15% of the potential benefit of being coached and involves a slightly higher risk than does listening
  • Suggesting: which has the intention of expanding the coach's concept of what is possible by suggesting alternatives the coach might choose, stating personal reactions to what the coach is presenting, or asking questions which draw out the coach's creativity.
  • Asking "What else do you need?": Being listened to helps draw out the uniqueness of the coach and their approach; being appreciated gives the coach information about what already succeeds in their approach; and suggestions offer information about possible ways to improve. All that remains is to discover what else the coach might need.

Here are two stories of Doug Lipman's that I particularly enjoy:

Elliot Coleman's Gift

When I was a student at John Hopkin's University, I wanted to join a poetry writing course taught by Professor Elliot Coleman. To be accepted into the course, first I had to show Coleman a sample of my poetry. Fearing criticism, I procrastinated.

When at last I braved an appointment with him and let him read my poems, I was astonished at his response: he told me what he liked about them. I left his office buoyed and inspired. That very week I wrote a poem that broke new ground for me.

When my poems were discussed in class, I often felt that Coleman understood my purposes better than I did. I always left class inspired and able to improve what I had written.

One week, I lingered in Professor Coleman's classroom after the class session had ended. All had left the room except two other students, on whom I was eavesdropping.

One of the students was attacking a poem that the other had written. At bay, the author of the poem defended himself: "Well, Elliot Coleman likes this poem!"

The other, arching for the kill, hissed, "So? Elliot Coleman likes everything!"

In that moment I understood two things. Of course, I understood what the attacker meant: if I like everything equally, my judgement is meaningless.

But I also understood what the attacker did not. Elliot Coleman did not praise indiscriminately. On the contrary, his great gift was his ability to find what there was to like in every poem he read.

A Word and a Sentence

In the early 1930s, Mischa Borodkin was already an established symphony violinist when he decided to study conducting under the foremost teacher of conducting in the world, Felix Weingartner. Screwing up his courage, he journeyed to Switzerland during the symphonic off-season and presented himself to Maestro Weingartner.

"Maestro, I'm not sure I belong here. Everyone else seems to have studied conducting already. I have not."

Weingartner looked at this student who, at age thirty, had already played in the New York Philharmonic for twelve years. "Very well, you will conduct first. Prepare a piece for tomorrow, and we'll see if you belong here."

Late into the night, Mischa prepared his first work to conduct.

The next morning, as the last note of Beethoven's Coriolanus Overture dies out, Mischa looked anxiously at the conductor. Weingartner spoke the single most important word a teacher can say: "Stay!"

At the end of the summer course, Weingartner bid goodbye to Mischa with a memorable sentence of encouragement: "Write to me of your success in America!"

Weingartner did not say, "You are a great conductor," nor even, "You have made great progress." He did not evaluate Mischa at all. His gift of a single sentence was much greater, because this appreciation told Mischa that Weingartner believed in him.

Of all his stories from his nearly fifty-year musical career, Mischa told this one with the greatest sense of pride.

Both stories are from The Storytelling Coach by Doug Lipman, August House, 1995. ISBN 0-87483-434-1