October 29, 2007

Reframing an employee's behavior

More and more managers have started to use solution-focused principles and techniques in their conversations with employees. One of the key things while doing that is to approach employees constructively. In 2005, Insoo Kim Berg and I tried to explain this in the artcile Looking at the Other Side of the Coin. Here is a quote from that article:
"When we, as managers, change how we view a person, we can generate much simpler and easier solutions to them so that we can focus our attention on more difficult and time consuming issues. Framing an employee's behavior in a constructive way offers much more flexible ways to solve the manager’s problem."

October 27, 2007

Positive psychology and Carol Dweck

A few weeks ago I posted this post: It is essentially about what has functioned well (not about strengths). In this post I said this about solution-focused questions:
"It is not certain that the answer to these questions necessarily leads to the discovery of some stable personal strength. What the answer will lead to is to the identification of some behaviour which in the past has been successful in a more or less comparable situation. So these are not strengths based questions so much as questions which shine a light on what has functioned well. What has functioned well does not exclusively refer to people only but to the interaction between people and situations. So, again it may be wise to be careful of placing a great emphasis on any kind of fixed labels on people (even if these labels are positive). Here is another reason for that. Carol Dweck, Stanford professor, has warned against complimenting children for intelligence. Her research shows that praising children for intelligence leads them to fear challenges and makes them feel stupid and discouraged when they fail."

Today, I was pleased to see an article on Positive Psychology News Daily by Bridget Grenville-Cleave about this same idea and also refering to Carol Dweck's work. Here is a quote from that article:
"Perhaps focusing on people’s strengths and creating labels (albeit positive ones) is not always a good thing."

Six functions of solution-focused summaries

I was reading the new third edition of Interviewing for solutions. The new edition is recommendable because it has been updated really well. On page 28, I came across a subject which I think is underrated in solution-focused articles and books: summaries. Here are the different uses of summaries that are mentioned:
  1. The summary reassures the client that the SF practitioner was listening carefully
  2. The summary reassures the SF practitioner that he has heard the client accurately
  3. By using the client's words in the summary the SF practitioner shows respect for the client's frame of reference
  4. The summary (if done descriptively and in a spirit of openness) has the effect of inviting the client to say more (correct, revise or add)
  5. The summary has the effect of putting the client in control of how to describe their experiences
  6. The summary assists the SF practitioner in formulating the next question based on what the client has just revealed

October 19, 2007

Help wanted from solution-focused connaisseurs

I have made a page about solution-focused terms and their first mentions in publications. My goal on this page is to make a list of the most important terms and concepts which originated from within the solution-focused approach. In the table on that page important solution-focused terms are listed in the left column. The right column shows the first book or article in which the term was mentioned for the first time (as far as I know). This is obviously a work in progress. It is quite possible there are some mistakes and ommissions here. So will you help me develop this list further? Here is the page.

October 18, 2007

Creating the expectation of beneficial change

"The most useful way to decide which door can be opened to get a solution is by getting a description of what the client will be doing differently and/or what sorts of things will be happening that are different when the problem is solved, thus creating the expectation of beneficial change."

- Steve de Shazer, source of this quote, I found it here.

October 17, 2007


That's really nice: within only a few weeks, my video A brief history of the solution-focused approach has been viewed more than a thousand times....

October 14, 2007

Pre-session change

Imagine someone who has some kind of personal or professional problem. He calls a coach (or a therapist or consultant) to make an appointment. Soon after the phone call they have their first conversation. They start talking about the situation of the client. QUESTION: when does the client start to change? Conventional wisdom says that clients start to change when the coach starts to help them. After all, the client couldn't solve the problem alone... apparently he was stuck and needed help from a professional. Right? Wrong!

October 10, 2007

The flow of a solution-focused conversation

As you may have noticed before, I quite like visualisations of 'the' solution-focused process (see for instance Pathways to progress, When and where can you find solutions? and Solution Thinking visual). I found another one in this article by Chris Iveson, an English Solution-focused practitioner. It is called the flow of a session and this is it (click on the picture to enlarge it):

Professional attitude

"Responsible practitioners should practise with a cautious, open and questioning attitude."

- Robin M. Dawes, author of House of Cards, 1994

October 8, 2007

Research on Solution-Focused Therapy

It is a pity I can't find a pdf file of the full version of this article: A Review of the Research on Solution-Focused Therapy (by Jacqueline Corcoran and Vijayan Pillai). I can only find this summary (which does not give away anything about findings):

Solution-focused therapy is a strengths-based approach, emphasizing the resources people invariably possess and how these can be applied to the change process. A review was undertaken on the treatment outcome research involving solution-focused therapy to determine empirically its effectiveness. The review involved experimental or quasi-experimental designs conducted from 1985 to 2006 and was limited to published studies written in the English language. Subject, intervention and methodological information on studies were collected, as well as statistical information necessary to calculate effect sizes. After searching the literature, ten studies were located and described. No particular characteristics emerged regarding studies with high versus low effect sizes. Implications for research are advanced based on the review, especially related to social work practice.
Anyone who knows more about the findings of this study please let me know..

October 7, 2007

The Support Group antibullying approach

An interesting approach of dealing with bullying problems in schools is the so-called support group approach. English solution-focused practitioner Sue Young writes: "The approach addresses bullying by forming a support group of ‘bullies’ and/or bystanders. Without apportioning blame, it uses a problem-solving approach, giving responsibility to the group to solve the problem and to report back at a subsequent review meeting." As you can see this is very solution-focused approach because no blame is used, and causes of the bullying are not investigated. Instead, the collaborative solution-building process starts right away. If you're interested you can read more in this article: Should We Blame the Bullies?

October 6, 2007

The importance of the way questions are framed

Barry Schwartz has written an interesting article in Scientific American Mind with the title When words decide. Two summarizing sentences are used in the article which seem very solution-focused:
  • "The phrasing of questions or choices can have profound, and often counterintuitive, effect on the way people make decisions"
  • "Research on the effects of language on choice suggests that people do not always strictly possess preferences and values but rather construct them when they are asked a question or give a choice"
This may explain why using constructive, and positive language in the way it is done in solution-focused conversations, may help people choose constructive and positive attitudes and goals.

October 3, 2007

The pragmatists

A group of philosophers who had an influence on the development of the solution-focused approach (or who at least can be seen as antecedents) are the so-called pragmatists. Two prominent examples are William James (1842-1910; see picture) and John Dewey (1859-1952). These pragmatists became popular (again) in the 1950's when some important fundaments of the solution-focused approach were laid (in the work of Milton Erickson for instance who himself was very pragmatic in his conversations with clients). The pragmatists consider practical consequences of behavior to be vital components of meaning and truth (read more about this here). In simpler terms, the pragmatists shifted their attention from trying to understand and predict reality to trying to identify what works. William James stresses (inspired by F.C.S. Schiller) that we are makers of reality. On this page you find a selection of quotes by William James. Here is a particular quote which is directly related to the solution-focused approach:
"Truth is what works."
- William James

October 2, 2007

For that, you have to be Superman!

Jan Kuipers told me a nice example of a solution-focused conversation he had had with a young school child. Paul is boy who has driven his teacher to despair by pushing all the light buttons every time he walks out of the class room. The teacher has told him time and again not to do that, but he just keeps on doing it, claiming he can not leave it. Jan met Paul and asked him whether he had an idea about how he could walk out of the classroom without pushing the buttons. Paul thought for a second and answered: "That is so hard, for that, you have to be Superman!" Jan smiled and thought for a second. Then he asked: “Oh, is that right, can Superman do it? Can you show me how he does that?" Paul answered: “I can't, for that I need to have Superman with me!" "Aha, I understand”, Jan said, "and do you have Superman?” “Yes, I do!” said Paul enthusiastically, “Shall I get him?” “Ok, do it”, Jan said and Paul ran out of the classroom. When Paul returned, one minute later, Jan asked: "Hey Paul, what did I see just now? You ran out of the classroom without hitting the light buttons.... How did you do that?” Paul smiled a big smile and proudly held a small key hanger with a Superman puppet on it in the air. At the end of the conversation Paul walked out of the classroom. Slowly he walked past the light buttons. When he was right next to them he lifted his Superman puppet in the air and proudly he walked past them without pushing them.

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