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Four Roles for Coaches, Directors, Interviewers and More

Different kinds of coaches, directors, and interviewers have different expectations of their roles. When a coach and a storyteller, for example, have different expectations of how each will be treated by the other, conflict and dissatisfaction are likely outcomes.

Are there concise ways to describe various styles of interacting around stories? This article sets out four roles common to coaching, theatrical directing and interviewing that, together, define a particular style of interacting.

The discussion begins by describing the four roles, then goes on to show how the roles are apportioned differently in different styles of coaching, directing, and interviewing.

The Four Roles

Each “role” is really a pair of roles, just like “Storyteller” and “Listener” are a pair of roles; each requires the other. Here are the roles that, together, define a style of coaching, etc.:

Role 1: Beneficiary

The paired role for Beneficiary is Helper. Between them, Helper and Beneficiary describe for whom the interaction is taking place. 

More detailed definition: Both Helper and Beneficiary can, of course, gain benefit from the coaching (interviewing, etc.) interaction. But the Helper agrees that, if there is ever a conflict between the Helper’s benefit and the Beneficiary’s benefit, the Helper will, for the duration of the interaction, give the Beneficiary’s benefit top priority.

In a paid performance, for example, the listener is the Beneficiary and the storyteller is the Helper. In a therapy session in which the client is telling a story, on the other hand, the storyteller is the Beneficiary and the listener is the Helper, as summarized in this table:

 

 

Beneficiary

Helper

Paid performance

Listener

Teller

Therapy session

Teller

Listener

 

Role 2: Creative Director

The paired role is Creative Assistant. Between them, Creative Director and Creative Assistant describe whose creativity is given precedence.

More detailed definition: Both Creative Director and Creative Assistant may contribute to the creative process. But when both desire to contribute creatively, the Creative Assistant must take a back seat.

More particularly, the interaction is meant to explore the creativity of the Creative Director. The Creative Assistant may offer the results of her/his own creativity as stimulus to the creativity of the Creative Director, or may take an active role in helping the Creative Director’s creativity to flow.

In a certain kind of coaching, for example, the teller is the Creative Director and the coach is the Helper. In such a coaching session, the coach would contrive to help the teller find her/his own scenes, character interpretations and images.

In another kind of coaching, however, the teller seeks help not in unblocking her/his own creativity, but in the actual creative work. In this kind of coaching session, the coach would offer his/her own ideas for scenes, character interpretations, etc.

The two kinds of coaching styles are summarized in this table:

 

 

Creative Director

Creative Assistant

Coaching style #1

Teller

Coach

Coaching style #2

Coach

Teller

 

Role 3: Evaluator

The paired role is Contributor. Between them, Evaluator and Contributor describe whose judgment is given precedence.

More detailed definition: Both Evaluator and Contributor may exercise judgment about the results of their interaction, such as whether a particular story is acceptable, worth pursuing, etc. But whenever there is a conflict between their judgments, the judgment of the Evaluator must take precedence. Further, the judgment of the Contributor should usually be offered only when requested.

In a job-performance-evaluation interview, for example, the interviewer is the Evaluator and the interviewee is the Contributor. In such a coaching session, the coach would contrive to help the teller find her/his own scenes, character interpretations and images.

In another kind of coaching, however, the teller seeks help not in unblocking her/his own creativity, but in the actual creative work. In this kind of coaching session, the coach would offer his/her own ideas for scenes, character interpretations, etc.

The two kinds of coaching styles are summarized in this table:

 

 

Evaluator

Contributor

Coaching style #1

Teller

Coach

Coaching style #2

Coach

Teller

 

Role 4: Elicitor

The paired role is Story Source. Between them, Elicitor and Story Source describe who is to try to draw out stories in a given interaction.

More detailed definition: Both Elicitor and Story Source may contribute stories. But the Elicitor’s stories are told only for purposes of stimulating the flow of stories from the Story Source. If the Elicitor is telling a story when the Story Source begins a different story, the Elicitor must immediately cease telling and begin listening encouragingly.

In interviewing sessions, for example, the interviewee is commonly the Story Source and the interviewer is the Elicitor.

Some improvisational theater directors expect to elicit stories from actors (or storytellers). Others, however, expect all the stories to be provided by the playwright.

 

These examples are summarized in this table:

 

 

Elicitor

Story Source

Coach who elicits

Coach

Teller

Interviewing

Interviewer

Interviewee

Improv director

Director

Actor

Traditional director

(unspecified)

Playwright

 

Examples of Varied Styles

With these four role-pairs in mind, we can describe the basic philosophy of different coaches, directors, and interviewers.

Coaching Styles

For example, in my model of coaching, I expect the roles to break down one way, since I coach for the sake of the teller and see myself as an assistant to the teller’s creativity, not as a substitute for it. In my model, the teller is in charge of deciding what suggestions of mine are worth acting on. And, whenever achieving the teller’s goals calls for it, I am happy to elicit additional scenes or stories from the teller.

This can be summarized in the table below as “Doug’s coaching.”

In another coaching style, though, the coach expects to be Creative Director and expects the teller to look for new stories and scenes outside of the coaching session. This style appears as  “Coaching style #2” in the table below.

 

 

Function

Beneficiary

Creative Director

Evaluator

Elicitor

Doug’s coaching

Teller

Teller

Teller

Coach

Coaching style #2

Teller

Coach

Coach

Teller

 

This simple table shows important differences in coaching philosophy. I believe there is a place for many styles of coaching. At the same time, it is vital that the coach and teller match each other’s expectations.

Directing Styles

Similarly, a very traditional theater director might expect to be the creative "dictator" of a production that interprets a playwright’s work. (See “Traditional Director” in the table below.)

But a different kind of director expects collaboration with actors (or storytellers) in creating new material based on the actor’s creativity. This style is “Directing style #2” in the table:

 

Function

Beneficiary

Creative Director

Evaluator

Elicitor

Traditional director

Director

Director

Director

Playwright

Directing style #2

Actor/Teller

Actor/Teller

Actor/Teller

Director

 

Both styles (and other variant styles, too) have a place. But if actors and directors expect different styles, trouble can ensue – especially without a shared vocabulary to describe these different expectations.

Interviewing Styles

With all that in mind, we can look at interviewers. The data-seeking census interviewer, for example, probably expects to be the Beneficiary (or at least to be a stand-in for the Beneficiary, who may be the interviewer’s boss: the government or the people it represents).

What about the story-seeking interviewer? I can imagine several different, equally valid styles.

The Seeker of Family Stories

Suppose an interviewer wants to discover the stories a teller knows, but doesn’t want to find stories of a particular kind. (This might be true when interviewing a family member in the hopes of finding some stories of any kind from your family.) In such a case, the interviewer might expect to be the Beneficiary, the Elicitor and the Evaluator. (The interviewer gets to define what a "story" is.) Since the interviewee decides how to tell the stories, this interviewee is the Creative Director.

Helper for a Family Member

Now suppose that an interviewer is helping a family member discover stories, so that the family member can write a book. The expectations might be that the interviewee is the Beneficiary—and also the Evaluator, since the interviewee decides which stories s/he might want to include.

Charity Fundraiser

Finally, consider the case of someone from a charity interviewing a person who has benefited from the charity’s programs, so that the charity can use the person’s stories for fund-raising. In the case where the interviewer wants stories that will meet the organization’s purposes but also preserve the intention of the interviewee, the interviewer will expect to be both the Beneficiary and the Evaluator.

All these story-interviewing styles are summarized in this table:

 

Function

Beneficiary

Creative Director

Evaluator

Elicitor

Census taker

Interviewer

Interviewer

Interviewer

Interviewer

Seeker of Family Stories

Interviewer

Interviewee

Interviewer

Interviewer

Helper for a Family Member

Interviewee

Interviewee

Interviewee

Interviewer

Charity Fundraiser

Interviewer

Shared

Interviewer

Interviewer

 

Which Roles Do You Want?

When you seek a coach, director, or someone to interview you, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I expect to be the Beneficiary?
  • Who do I expect to be the Evaluator
  • Who do I expect to be the Creative Director?
  • Who do I expect to be the Elicitor?

Equally importantly, ask yourself the same questions when you find yourself coaching, directing or interviewing.

In all cases, take the time to compare your expectations with those of the other person involved. You can get what you want—but first you may need clear language in which to describe it.

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