Stories Work Better Than Advice

A client asked me what I would do?

It’s a simple question and instead of being smart, I answered him honestly.

He was fine with the answer. In fact it seemed to help, but I noticed after that call we began to drift apart.

It took me weeks to understand why.

Even after we stopped working together this issue stuck in my head.

I would come back to it again and again.

I remember I was on a walk with my dog and this one hound that we usually pass by is always out by the fence, barked at my dog. Obviously she became defensive of me and riled up.

She lunged toward the other dog.

I pulled her back.

And we kept walking.

My Aha! Moment

As we kept going I thought I should just let me dog go and see what happens.

I did this once before the fence kept the dogs apart. They just increased their barking and growling.

There couldn’t be a settlement. The fence blocked one dog from dominating the other and seeing the argument.

Then the reason why I struggled with my client hit me.

I told him what I would do. He liked the answer, but he was unwilling to actually implement my idea.

He didn’t have the same strengths as me. He wasn’t able to do what I would do. He didn’t want to implement my idea.

Was he scared? I dunno….possibly, because fear keeps so many small businesses back from succeeding.

This is all a guess of course because he enjoyed our sessions. Because he liked my suggestion, but he didn’t want to implement it, made him feel bad about himself.

Ownership Is Vital

That’s why it’s important as a coach not to tell people what to do.

Very few people like to be told what to do.

Clients want to feel empowered to make their own decisions. They want to lunge for the answer and make it a reality. They want to own it.

And best of all, neuroscience supports that this is the most effective way of learning and implementing change.

I’ve learned to adjust how I give advice. Tim is a Life Coach and he knows he can rarely give advice, but I’m a business coach and people expect me to give advice.

Now I tell stories that convey my idea without telling them directly what they should do.

It’s these examples that help create an emotional distance between me directly telling them what to do and still being able to give them advice.

It works for me.

Your Turn…

I’m curious if you ever worked with someone who asked you what you would do. Did you have the same result or did something else occur?


  1. I agree with you, Karl that people don’t like to be told what to do and I can see how telling stories could work to get around that. I find it sometimes tricky in doing nutrition/health coaching, but I can see that this is the best way to ’empower’ the client. One Approach that I took on – I propose an idea and then ask if it resonates with the person and if they are interested in trying it out as an experiment for some specific time. This seems to be working quite well for my type of coaching.
    I’m wondering if you could you give a short example of a problem and a story that you gave to a client?
    Do you have your own ‘trick’ on how to turn your answer into a story?

    • Karl Staib

      Hi Kasia!

      The idea is to give an example of a similar struggle and what you or someone else did to overcome it. For example I was working with a client that was struggling with his niche. Instead of explaining how hard his niche would be to grow his coaching practice. I told him a story about myself and how I struggled to attract clients. I explained why it was hard, the struggle I endured, and how I pivoted my coaching business to make it easier for me to grow my business. I focused on how I adjusted to my market, especially in the early years of a business.

  2. Michael Wecke

    This kind of story telling may have the advantage in that it shows the client that he / she is not alone in struggling – which may be encouraging. But I agree wholeheartedly that one should never tell a client what to do. While my experience with that kind of question is more as an HR consultant, I was blessed enough with Life Line training in my younger years never to say what I would do. I did explain that we are different individuals, with different backgrounds, different experiences etc and that whatever worked for me might not be what will work for the person asking me that question. At the time I would also ask something in the line of “if nothing would stand in your way to accomplish your goal, how would you go about accomplishing it?”