April 19, 2009

An abundance of solution-focused interventions to choose from

In solution-focused coaching it is perfectly possible to do conversations without using 'standard' techniques like scaling questions and miracle questions. It is not strictly necessary to use these techniques. In fact, whatever situation you are in with your client(s) there will often be an abundance of choices in how precisely to proceed. There are always several things you can do at any point in a conversation. There are always many equivalent ways of phrasing responses and questions. Asking miracle questions or scaling questions may be a good idea but there are alternatives which may work just as well, perhaps even better. These alternatives may be variations on the same basic ideas. For example there are many many ways of inviting a client to start describing his desired future. Of course, it can be hard to think to learn these interventions and to use them effectively in conversations; I am not saying it is necessarily easy.
Having said this (that no standard technique is ever obligatory), I must add that scaling questions are a favorite of mine (and of many other solutionists). I use them often and enjoy how flexible they are and useful they often are which tempts me to turn my statement around and claim that at any point in any conversation a scaling question may be a good choice.
Thanks to Hans Peter Korn for triggering this thought.


  1. I agree, Coert.
    On both counts.
    Solution-focused conversations can happen anywhere: as long as you ask a lot of questions (vs. formulating advice), treat people with respect, are genuinely curious and address them with respect.
    At the same time, scaling questions help in all situations - even in self-evaluation, as I discovered today.
    I had to initiate a difficult conversation, and I was not happy with the results - I came home thinking I should have done more, said more, and I was really disappointed with myself.
    But then I thought about scaling, for some reason, and I decided that on a scale from 0 (doing nothing) and 10, I was at a good 3, 3 and a half. So not where I want to be, but I did do some work, I laid out some groundwork, I created an opportunity for another meeting this coming week and I mentioned my concerns... not bad. Just thinking of scaling shifted my perspective, and I was able to overcome the all-or-nothing frame of mind.
    Thanks for your post,

  2. Hi Paolo, interesting isn;t how easily Sf can be used for self-coaching? thanks for your example

  3. What a tantalising post! I absolutely agree about how flexible and effective scaling can be, in all its different forms. *AND* I'm always interested in finding more ways to put sf into practice without "using a technique." In particular, I have a client who has become allergic to scaling questions!

    So Coert, I'm wondering.... of all the times you've done solutions-focused coaching without using 'standard' techniques, which are your favourites?


  4. Hi Shakya,
    Thank you. Well, what I mean essentially is that I just use questions and responsed which make the conversation sound just like an 'ordinary' conversation. For instance I might respond to a client with a complaint like this: 'Ah, I can imagine you would like things to be different... How would like things to become?'

    The kinds of questions and responses are really all expressions of familiar SF techniques like normalizing, acknowledging, reframing, asking the desired-situation question, asking for ealier successes, etc, etc.. But they can be formulated in such a way that clients or observers don't experience them as techniques at all (like can be the case with scaling questions and miracle questions). Instead, they generally just say that the conversation went very smoothly, pleasantly and naturally. The examples of how this can be done our countless. Catch my drift?

  5. Hi Coert,
    I very much catch your drift, I was just hoping for more examples. I'm rating myself as a 7 on doing what you're talking about. More examples would help me move up the scale, especially around my client who is allergic to scaling. How have you asked scaling questions without reference to a scale?

  6. Hi Shakya, thanks. It is a bit difficult to give many examples. It would be easier to explain while talking to each other. Will I meet you at Texel at the SOL conference?
    I'll try to describe what I mean in a more general way.
    When you know what type of information you are looking for (for a hint watch this youtube video: http://tinyurl.com/c7qpnm) you can rely on certain rough structures to guide yuo in your interview questions (for an example see this youtube video: http://tinyurl.com/djo5h5). This helps you to get a sense of the building blocks that might be helpful in the conversation. Of course the client should never be forced along these pathe. the path is more like a map that helps you to keep an oversight and that you may use to suggest directions to the client.
    What alo helps is to find lots of ways of asking these questions. For instance when using the desired situation question it is nearly always helpful to encourage the client a lot by asking questions like: how will know when things will be better, how will that help, what will be the advantage, how will other notice etc etc.
    I think learning to di this is quite comparable to learning to play a musical instrument. continued deliberate practice helps a lot. It gets easier.

  7. Hi Coert,
    when you suggest "certain rough structures," do you have in mind something similar to the 6 tools Mark and Paul suggest in their book? Sounds similar to me. Anyway, looking forward to talking with you in TEXEL, maybe even hearing some examples ;-)

  8. Hi Shakya, I don't know which those 6 tools are, so I can't say for sure.

  9. Hi Coert,

    I'm sure you are somehow familiar with the solutions tools proposed in The Solutions Focus book:

    Future Perfect
    Small Actions

  10. Hi Mark, Oh these. Sure I know these. As you know I have read the first edition of your book and I liked it a lot.
    all the best,


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