June 8, 2007

From activity centeredness to outcome centeredness

In an earlier post I mentioned Schaffer & Thomson (1992) who argued for an outcome focus instead of an activity focus. They say that in activity centeredness means and goals are easily confused. The activity seems to become more important than what you would hope to achieve. This is essential in solution-focused change too. Sometimes, right after the problem has been clarified the client focuses on a specific activity, behavior or solution before he has specifically formulated his goal. The client may have a theory about how this may help or maybe someone suggested this solution to him. But this preferred solution might not work well at all. We need to know what we want to achieve in order to be able to evaluate the effectiveness of an attempted solution. It is often wise to help the client focus on his goal again before actually attempting this solution. Consider this example of Jim, talking to his coach about a conflict with his manager:
JIM: This conflict with my boss is really driving me crazy.
COACH: Considering what you have told me about the conflict I can imagine you want things to be different. How would you like things to be?
JIM: I know what I have to do: next time I meet him I am going to tell him exactly how I feel about him and explain to him what a terrible person he is.
COACH: How will that help?
JIM: How will that help? ... Well ... I suppose if I get that off my chest I won’t think about this conflict with my boss all the time.
COACH: What could you do then?
JIM: Then I would be able to concentrate on my work again.
COACH: Sounds good... What will be different if you can concentrate on your work again?
JIM: ... (thinks) .... I’ll answer all those unanswered emails I have.
COACH: Aha, what else?
JIM: I’ll write that proposal I should finish this week....... And I’ll finish some other stuff.
COACH: How will you be different if you do all of that?
JIM: ..... (Smiles) ..... When I will have finished those things I guess I will be more relaxed and friendlier to people around me.
COACH: (Smiling) Alright! .... And if your boss would see you then, how would he notice the difference?
JIM: He’d be very pleased. He always says I am delaying things too much so he’ll be very pleased if he sees me finishing my work on time. He always complains about me missing deadlines.
COACH: Aha, I am beginning to see how it is important for you to find ways to be able to concentrate on your work so you can finish things on time.....
JIM: (Energetically) Exactly!


  1. Coert,

    This looks like the script you used in a recent video called Past, present, future X negative, positive. I really like seeing it in a script format so I can review the coaches questions better.

    I also think your point is very important as in every day life people jump at the first solutions that comes to mind instead of thinking about the outcomes they are trying to create. I know I've done this frequently.

    Coert, do you self-coach at all? I'm wondering how SF coaches approach their own problems. Do you ask yourself SF questions when trying to change something. Or do you automatically think in an SF way?


  2. Hi Rodney, thanks. I think dialogues are such a nice way to communicate how SF works. I've got quite a lot of them in Dutch. Unfortunately, translating them is quite a bit work and cost quite a lot of time.

    yes, i do use solution-focused questions a lot with my own problems. In a one on one coaching situations there is of course the wonderful advantage of the response and the interaction and the 'co-creation'. but apart from this there is the sheer power of the solution-focused question which i am convinced work even without the interaction. Powerful question precede powerful results, even when you're the one who's asking them to yourself
    I think part of the SF process has become automated indeed but when I am deliberately using SF my perception is always that I am very conscious of many things I am doing while I am doing them


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