Yesterday, someone asked me, during a training for an educational services organization, what some of the contra-indications are for solution-focused working. In other words: when do you deliberately do something else instead of SF? Well, it is an interesting question. But also a hard one because I have experienced over the years how enormously broadly applicable the solution-focused model is: coaching, management, career counseling, conflict management, teambuilding, sales, organizational change, personnel management, education etc.). Here is what I answered to the question when not to use the solution-focused approach:
- If you have reason to think that the complaint primarily has to do with physical causes. (If the client complains about chest pain radiating to their left arm, suggest he sees a doctor fast instead of doing the miracle question).
- If there is a proven standard approach for the type of problem your client mentions. (If your client asks you how to compose an application resume you might just hand him some examples instead of asking him some scaling questions).
- If the problem of the client has to do with some kind of technical defect. If the one you're talking to says he cannot get his computer going it may be wiser to check the cables than to ask for exceptions to the problem.
- If there is an urgent situation or danger. In those cases you may not have enough time to lead from behind. Instead, you may first need to take some directive action. Perhaps after that, you may continue solution-focused.
Granted, the examples mentioned may appear a bit silly and simplistic. But what I am really trying to point at is the criteria mentioned:
- physical problems
- proven standard approaches
- technical defects
- high urgency or danger
Maybe these criteria can shine some light on when not to work (or at least start off) in a solution-focused manner. These answers are only a starting point. More ideas are certainly welcome.
Also read: The No Free Lunch Theorem