March 29, 2010

Can you SF-coach a person who is already familiar with solution-focused change?

In response to my post of yesterday, Simon Visser asked: Can help a person who is familiar with solution-focused change? Wonderful question. My experience is: yes you can. Three thoughts come to mind:
  1. Most people familiar with SF tend to have some good experiences with it which is likely to make them lenient.
  2. SF'ers will probably use it themselves (self-coaching). When when helping such people, it may even be so that they will help formulate the questions.
  3. When they say something like: "Oh I know that question, that is the scaling question", It is probably wise to respond something like: "Ah, you know that one! Do you think it will be useful to try that question?" If they agree, go ahead, if not, figure out together what may be more useful.
Stanus Cloethe, a solution-focused coach from South Africa, when reading this reply, added the following: "Even I experience something different when somebody else takes me through the SF process - it helps to find a different perspective."

March 28, 2010

Can you offer solution-focused help to friends and family?

I got this question about my post from a few days ago: "what do you think about using those three steps with a friend or family member who is having trouble?" Here are my thoughts on this issue.

In itself these solution-focused steps are likely to work too when talking with a friend or family member. But there is one thing which I advise you to be careful about when helping a friend or relative. Sometimes when you use these types of techniques with friends or family they may hold back or object. This may have to do with them having some trouble with you changing your role from a friendship role to a (sort of) professional role. This perceived change of role may confuse them or even irritate them. They may feel that this would suddenly make the relationship unequal. My suggestion would be to be careful when providing professional help to close ones by explicitly checking if they want help and if they want you to help them. When the answer is 'no' it's probably best to accept it.

March 27, 2010

Solution-Focused Attributional Interventions

In order to make sense of what happens in their lives, people attribute explanations to events in their lives. Psychologists call this process 'attribution'. Martin Seligman (in his book Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life) described the following three dimensions of people's attributional styles:
  1. Permanence: is the cause of the event permanent or temporary?
  2. Pervasiveness: will the cause of event affect every aspect of life (permanent) or only this context (specific)?
  3. Personalization: is the cause of the event internal (caused by self) or external (cause by others)?

March 26, 2010

Redirecting attention from negative to positive in 3 small steps (P->C->O)

Improvement is often realized by redirecting attention from dissatisfaction about a status quo to a positive goal and to then start taking steps in the direction of that positive goal. This process of shifting from negative to positive is something we do manage to do very often in our daily life in a variety of circumstances. Usually we do this routinely and we may even be hardly aware of it sometimes. But sometimes we find it hard to make this shift and we get stuck in our dissatisfaction. In these cases it is often hard to do anything but express our dissatisfaction and complain. When this happens, a little help from someone else can help us to turn our perspective from negative to positive. It is one of the things solution-focused coaches can help with. They often use three small steps to assist this shift of perspective:

March 25, 2010

10 quotes from The Genius in All of Us by David Shenk

Here are 10 interesting quotes from the book: The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You've Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong by David Shenk:
  1. Every day in every way you are helping to shape which genes become active. Your life is interacting with your genes (p27)
  2. While we'll never have true control over our lives, we do have the power to impact them enormously (p27)
  3. Children develop only as the environment demands development (p35)
  4. Intelligence is a dynamic, diffuse, and ongoing process (p42)
  5. No one is genetically designed into greatness and few are biologically restricted from attaining it (p43)
  6. Talent is not the cause but the result of something (p49)
  7. Short term intensity cannot replace long-term commitment (p54)
  8. With humility, with hope, and with extraordinary determination, greatness is something to which any kid -of any age- can aspire (p10)
  9. Stability does not imply unchangeability (Michael Howe, p34)
  10. People make a great mistake who think that my art has come easily to me. Nobody has devoted so much time and thought to composition as I (WA Mozart, p57).
Which one do you like best?

Psychological flexibility: turn negative feelings into appropriate responses

Research has found that if you can recognize your negative feelings, defuse them, then choose a more appropriate response, you are more likely to emerge as a leader in a self-managed team.
As a leader in a self-managed team, you can improve the performance of individual team members, you will be rated as a higher performer and you will be more satisfied with your performance.

March 19, 2010

The Shattering of the Genetic Determinism Myth

Are you interested in the recent literature on genetics, talent and intelligence? (See my post on Anders Ericsson, Carol Dweck, Malcolm Gladwell, Joshua Aronson, Geoff Colvin, Daniel Coyle, Richard Nisbett, and Norman Doidge). If your answer is 'yes' you must not miss this book: The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You've Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong by David Shenk. This book convincingly shatters the genetic determinism myth and sets us free from ways of thinking that have for a long time for many people stood in the way of development and achieving success.

The differential effects of solution-focused and problem-focused coaching questions: a pilot study with implications for practice

Anthony M. Grant and Sean A. O’Connor

Full reference: Grant, A.M. & O'Connor, S.A. (2010). The differential effects of solution-focused and problem-focused coaching questions: a pilot study with implications for practice. Industrial and Commercial Training, Vol. 42 No. 2, pp. 102-111. 

Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to explore the differential effects of problem-focused and solution-focused coaching questions by means of a literature overview and results of an exploratory pilot study.
Design/methodology/approach – In a problem-focused coaching session 39 participants complete a range of measures assessing self-efficacy, their understanding of a problem, positive and negative affect, and goal approach. They then respond to a number of problem-focused coaching questions, and then complete a second set of measures. The 35 participants in a solution-focused session complete a mirror image of the problem-focused condition, responding to solution-focused coaching questions, including the ‘‘Miracle Question’’.

March 18, 2010

Expectation - Experimentation - Encouragement

Katri Kytöpuu, from Finland, asked the following question on twitter: "What three words spring to your mind, when you think about school, education and learning?" Here is my answer to that question: Expectation - Experimentation - Encouragement
What's yours?

March 13, 2010

Excerpt from The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You've Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong

Here is an excerpt from the book The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You've Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrongwhich came out this week. (More here).

We know that genetic factors do not operate "instead of" environmental factors, they interact with them: GxE. Genetic differences do exist. But those differences aren't straitjackets holding us in place; they are bungee cords waiting to be stretched and stretched. When positive environmental triggers such as parental speaking are discovered, the appropriate response is not to caution against their possible irrelevance, but to embrace their influence on our genes-- and our lives. And now we know what some of those triggers are:
  1. Speaking to children early and often: This trigger was revealed in Hart and Risley's incontrovertible study and reinforced by the University of North Carolina's Abecedarian Project, which provided environmental enrichment to children from birth, with the study subjects showing substantial gains compared with a control 

March 10, 2010

The client only wants it to go slower

In our courses for solution-focused coaches we often use live clients who volunteer to be coached by participants in our courses. Through a structured process the live clients, who are usually people who have trained by us in the solution-focused approach in the past, are coached in a solution-focused manner. The process of often exciting and educational for all involved. Participants learn a lot by trying out things and getting specific feedback.

Live clients of tell us the process was useful for them in two ways. First, they benefits because they are helped with respect to the problem or goal they brought in for the coaching session. Second, they often say that it was very useful for them to experience the coaching process from the perspective of client. For us as trainers this process of having a live client coached by participants is also very useful and interesting. At several points during the process and at the end of the process we interview live clients and focus on two questions: 1) what worked well according to you?, 2) what tips do you have for the coach?

Yesterday, we had a live client who told us how important it is to go slowly. She said she at some points had felt some pressure by the coach to go faster and she explained how this did not work well for her. Sometimes she felt the coach went to fast by asking for the preferred future while she would have liked to have said a bit more about her situation and problem. Her suggestions for the coaches was:
"If the client wants to say more, please let her talk as long as she wants. Clients really need that time to explore their own situation. Don't be afraid to go too slow. The client only wants it to go slower."

March 6, 2010

Solution-focused puzzle

Here is a little solution-focused puzzle. Can you guess what the solution-focused mediator said when these two clients came to his office for help in solving their interpersonal conflict? (Try to guess both interventions by the solution-focused meditator right). If you want to receive one of the solutions to this puzzle, send an email to

Client 1

John is so lazy and manipulative! He lets me do all the work. And afterwards he even tries to take credit for my work.

Client 2

Pete is always complaining and playing the victim … Such a baby! Grow up, man!



Client 1

You got that right!

Client 2

Yeah, right.




Both are quiet and think. After about 5 seconds one of them says: that is a very good question …

March 5, 2010

Who invented the solution-focused SCALING QUESTIONS?

Scaling questions belong to the simplest, most appealing and accessible tools that have emerged within the practise of the solution-focused approach to change management. Scales are very easy to use and have many applications (read this article if you'd like to learn how). Many people who are not familiar with the solution-focused approach (or hardly) still use scales in their conversations. I have been wondering for quite some who the first person was who deliberately started using scales in conversations. My hunch was it must have been Steve de Shazer. And this indeed seems to be case (although, as with other techniques, other members of the SFBT team will most likely have helped refine it). The article I mentioned yesterday says this about the invention of the scale-technique:
"The “scale question” similarly arose by chance. De Shazer tells of a client who had come to his second session. The therapist asked how he was doing or what was better now. The client had spontaneously replied: “I’ve almost reached 10 already!” The therapist began to play with the idea of using numbers to describe one’s situation. This started the development of the scale question used in solution-focused therapy. During the work process, something happened that was perceived to be useful and it was done again. (de Shazer, 1999)."

March 3, 2010

The inevitability and usefulness of tensions

If William James was right, contrary impulses within people are inevitable and useful. From the outside these ‘inner stresses’ are usually hard to perceive. This may explain why people may (falsely) think that other people –unlike themselves- don’t have these inner stresses. And it may explain why we are susceptible for suggestions from professionals who try to convince us that experiencing difficulties must mean we need (their) professional help.

From a distance other people may look very calm and controlled. The reality is probably there is a more or less constant tension within each of them. The same may apply to all complex systems.

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