The concept of IMPROV coaching came from observing great musicians and comedians in their zone of improvisation. IMPROV is the ability to recall, adapt, and bring appropriate skills into a current situation. But to be the most effective IMPROV coach, it all depends on one’s ability to be a great listener. And as a result of listening with curiosity, a great “story” will appear.
Mining out a person’s story is the very foundation for a successful coaching experience. Stories come from asking great questions, and a great coach seeks to understand rather than to be understood. Great questions move from the known to the unknown. Brandon Stanton of Story Corps says, “People aren’t very good at knowing how to tell their own stories, and that means that they’re often vague and imprecise. Cutting through that is part of the interviewer’s job. My interviews are very pointed. I’m an active participant.”
Imagine being interviewed as a candidate for the Harvard MBA program. As a candidate, you are asked a series of questions. Your past experiences can tell a lot about how you’ve dealt with success and failure. When interviewing with Harvard, “expect to be asked a number of questions that will help interviewers gauge how life has tested you and how you responded to that test.”
Here are 9 questions from their list:
- Why did you choose to work for your current company?
- Describe a situation where you successfully responded to change.
- How would you describe your style for teaching peers?
- Where will you be five to seven years post-MBA?
- How will you continue learning in your next position?
- Name a leader that you admire.
- Explain to me something you’re working on as if I were an eight-year-old.
- How do you make important decisions?
- What is one thing I’d never have guessed about you?
Many times, when a client is faced with a truly great question, their immediate reaction is often silence. Truly great coach questions often cause silence or bewilderment. When a client says, “Wow, that is a great question!” the response can be considered as a “pause,” which allows the client a few seconds to gather his thoughts as he prepares for the answer. It’s how you set up your coaching questions and how you follow up that creates much of the “wow” in coaching. Questions in the hands of a novice may not have the same punch as they do when used by a master. So work hard at becoming a professional who asks great questions. With any great artist, preparation makes it possible to “feel” a great performance.
Story Mining highlights the skill of asking great questions at the right time to draw the very best out of people. It is especially helpful in the beginning of the relationship. While all “people’s people” do this naturally, everyone can learn to more effectively and efficiently ask questions.
The Improv Story Mining Process:
- Start with the storyboard process — an invitation to tell their story. This is a graphic illustration, in sequential order. Similar to what they do in movie pre-production. As the coach, draw your story first. This will help the client be less intimidated as they draw their story.
- Show genuine interest and don’t rush.
- Watch for emotional reactions as the story unfolds.
- Who are the characters?
- Identify the timeline of crucial events.
- What happened?
- Where did it happen?
- How did you feel when these things happened?
- Look for pieces of the story that are directly connected to the current situation.
- What were the things about the story that were the most impressive?
Developing the Story Mining competency will enable you to:
- Be more proactive in the beginning of the conversation
- Convey a more genuine interest in listening
- Expand your list of “go to” questions when getting to know people
- Gain deeper insight about people
- Provide coaching and direction that has better life and career context