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:
  1. PROBLEM: Acknowledge problem: after the client has told about a problem, coaches acknowledge what the client has said for instance by saying something like: "That must be hard for you...".
  2. CHANGE: Suggest there is a desire for change: after the client has acknowledged that the situation is hard, and perhaps has explained how the situation is problematic for him or her, the coach may suggest that the client has a desire for change, for instance by saying: "I can imagine that you would like things to be different."
  3. OUTCOME: Ask the desired situation question: "When the client has agreed that he or she would like things to be different the coach may ask de desired situation question, for instance like this: "How would you like things to become?
By using these three small steps the client will usually experience this shift of perspective from negative to positive as quite natural. Step by step the solution-focused coach helps clients to shift their perspective on their reality.


  1. Dear Coert,
    I am looking for a link - and then your permission too, I guess - for the article you wrote about when not to use SF - I would like to refer / put in my LinkedIn group.
    Kind regards,

  2. Hi Elta, I think you mean this one?

  3. Yes, that's the one! Your words "No matter how great the approach may be, it would be dangerous to think that it is always the best approach to follow, or even, that it should always be followed" are quite sobering thoughts... Reading this article together with "No Free Lunches" indeed takes us to the domain of "beyond to do no harm". Or shall I say rather safe that sorry?
    Many Thanks,

  4. Hello.. an interesting post and simple to comprehend. Thanks. I wanted suggestions on following: I sometimes get stuck after step 3 when the client gives a desirable scenario but says it is an impossible scenario.

  5. Hi Pooja,
    Thanks. It is not uncommon that clients start off saying things that are not so realistic or helpful and then, with your help, gradually start talking in more constructive and realistic ways. In fact, this is a common pattern. Usually, several things help. By going slowly and following the client's perspective all the time, clients are encouraged to explore their views and wishes further. When someone says something unrealistic like: "I'd like to win the lottery", there are several ways of responding which all may work well. One is: "Sure, you'd like that, who wouldn't?", and smile. Often clients will then proceed to more realistic scenarios. Another one is: "Imagine that would indeed happen, what would then be possible for you? What could then do?" This one often works well too. With the desired situation it helps to keep asking until the client starts describing positive behavior of him or herself in the future. When clients themselves say of their scenario: "But that is impossible" you may either just wait and encourage them to talk on. The most likely thing is they will proceed to describe something that is more realistic. Or you may invite them in that direction, for instance by asking: "What might be a more realistic scenario?"

  6. Hi Coert

    Simple steps and idea. Can I have your permission to share with my participants in future training?



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