March 19, 2010

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’’.
Findings – Both the problem-focused and the solution-focused conditions are effective at enhancing goal approach. However, the solution-focused group experience significantly greater increases in goal approach compared with the problem-focused group. Problem-focused questions reduce negative affect and increase self-efficacy but do not increase understanding of the nature of the problem or enhance positive affect. The solution-focused approach increases positive affect, decreases negative affect, increases self-efficacy as well as increasing participants’ insight and understanding of the nature of the problem.
Practical implications – Solution-focused coaching questions appear to be more effective than problem-focused questions. Although real-life coaching conversations are not solely solution-focused or solely problem-focused, coaches should aim for a solution-focused theme in their coaching work, if they wish to conduct effective goal-focused coaching sessions that develop a depth of understanding, build self-efficacy, reduce negative affect, increase positive affect and support the process of goal attainment.


  1. Looks very interesting... do you have the reference please?

  2. Looks really useful.
    I would very much like the reference as well please, Coert!

  3. Hi Lizette, if you email me at I'll send it to you

  4. Coert,

    Could you post the reference in your article? I'm sure a lot of people would like to see it.


  5. it's not online as far as i know, rodney

  6. I, too, would be especially interested in your reference for this article, Coert. Very interesting!And a compelling argument for the SF approach!

  7. Even if it's a book or journal article that's out of print it would be good to know the source for myself and future readers.

  8. Hi Rodney, I have added the full references to the post. Thanks


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