April 17, 2010

At no point were confrontations needed

What is the non-confrontational character of the solution-focused approach and how can it work?
One of the remarkable things with solution-focused coaching is its non-confrontational character. Solution-focused practitioners, as a principle, work with whatever their clients say about what's happening in their lives and about what they want to achieve. Several concepts illustrate how solution-focused coaches work with whatever their clients present, such as leading from one step behind, the not-knowing attitude and language matching.

What is the reason for taking so seriously what the client says?
Roughly since the 1960's there has been a growing attention for client-directedness in psychotherapy and several other helping professions. Working with client perception has some important advantages. If coaches take very seriously what clients bring forward, clients will generally feel understood, will experience safety and will perceive the conversation as relevant. Also, it will be likely that this being taken seriously will help to quickly build a good relationship between coach and client. A more confrontational style of intervening by coaches may not work so well because clients may get irritated or defensive (read here why), may feel their coach does not really understand, may start to feel worse about themselves, etc. It can be highly threatening to be confronted. Philosopher Daniel Dennett once said something which explains this: "You seldom talk anybody out of a position by arguing directly with their premises and inferences."

How is it possible to help clients without being allowed to confront them?
How can they discover new perspectives? How can they discover new possibilities and opportunities? These questions seem especially relevant in situations in which clients seem to be really stuck. Here is how that works. By working with whatever the client presents solution-focused coaches create a basis of trust and openness with the conversation. Clients open up and feel understood. They are invited to say what's relevant to them which is highly motivational. They are invited to describe how they would like their circumstances to become. Once they start to see what their preferred future looks like, they become more positive, hopeful and creative. When solution-focused coaches ask them what they have already done that has   worked their hopefulness is further supported. When coaches patiently and enthusiastically asked more details about situations in their past that have been better, and when coaches give appreciated feedback on these, clients get more and more insight into what they can do that may help them to take steps forward. When solution-focused invite them to choose small steps forward their sense of autonomy and competence is further supported. In a tender and non-confrontational manner solution-focused coaches have helped client to change their perspective on their reality and to identify things that may help. At no point in this process were confrontations needed. Paradoxical but true.  

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