Step Outside the Story is a technique inspired by narrative therapy and the idea that our lives are shaped by the stories we tell ourselves and others about who we are and what has happened to us. These stories can sometimes be limiting or unhelpful and can prevent us from making positive changes or seeing possibility.

The technique involves helping the person to “step outside” their story by gently questioning the underlying assumptions, beliefs and mindsets. By doing so, the person can gain new perspectives on their situation and begin to see the story in a different way. This can open up new possibility and lead to positive change.

In narrative therapy, this process is often called “externalizing conversations”, which means seeing the problem as something separate from the person themselves. In narrative coaching, the focus is more on breaking the story apart and building a more helpful and empowering story.

The technique can be used actively or passively. Ethically, it would probably only ever be used actively with the person’s permission. On the flip side, once you start noticing the stories for what they are, it can be helpful to step outside them and reflect on what the story is saying (not saying) and why it is being told (to you).

Questions in the Image:

  • How long have you been telling this story?
  • What are you leaving out?
  • How would you like to break free of this story?
  • How might it have a different ending?

Want to Read More Around this Topic?

Maps of Narrative Practice by Michael White (link to Micheal White was one of the founders of Narrative Therapy and his works are full of fascinating insights. The opening chapter alone on Externalizing Conversations is worth its weight in gold.

Nurturing Curiosity – Daily Practice: This is part of the Nurturing Curiosity series of tools, insights and questions designed to help nurture curiosity as part of our daily practice. In point of fact, every interaction we have is an opportunity to question what we are observing and how we and others are seeing the world. Also remember that questions come in many forms throughout our day – for example, when we meet people for the first time we tend to swap stories that often answer what do you do and where are you from – these are a wonderful opportunity to ask What is this story really about? What purpose is it serving?

What Thoughts Would You Like to Share? My name is Tom O’Leary, and I envision a world in which curiosity shapes leadership. In this world, leaders aren’t boxed in by traditional thinking or established playbooks. They are open to fresh ideas and diverse perspectives, fostering a culture of exploration and learning. My mission is to shift leadership focus from authority, over-measurement and control to curiosity, learning and innovation, empowering leaders to prioritise the essential. My journey, lived in a number of countries and through various languages, has always been driven by a profound sense of curiosity. In fact, life has taught me that possibility lies not so much in seeking answers but in learning to ask better questions – the ones that help prioritise what is truly essential. I welcome your thoughts, feedback, or personal experiences related to these questions or any insights they may have sparked.