April 29, 2008

The observation task

In solution-focused coaching what has worked well before is used to generate ideas about steps forward in the direction of the desired situation. Coaches ask their clients questions like: ‘When have you been able to solve such a problem before?' or: ‘When were things a bit better? Through questions like these the coach helps the client to remember situations in which he or she has behaved effectively. In most coaching conversations clients succeed in finding examples of these kinds of earlier successes or 'exceptions to the problem'. But every now and then they don't. Sometimes clients say things like: "I just don't know when things were better", or: "Things have never been better". What can you do as a coach when something like that happens? You can apply the solution-focused technique of the observation task (De Shazer, 1988; nowadays often referred to as the 'observation suggestion'). Here is an example of how the observation task can be formulated:
"Could you, between now and our next conversation, pay attention to situations in which things are a bit better? When you notice that things are better, could pay close attention to what is different in that situation and to what you do different yourself? If you try to remember what is different when things are better we can talk about it next time we meet".
The observation task often has a surprisingly strong effect. The question makes them notice more consciously what goes right in their lives. Usually, this helps them become more optimistic and gain more confidence.

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