April 20, 2010

How honest is it to assume the solution-focused posture?

Ten years ago, when learning the basics of the solution approach, I sometimes pondered on the question: how honest is it to assume the solution-focused posture? When I observed and read about solution-focused practitioners I noticed they never seemed to disagree with their clients and they complimented their clients quite frequently. I wondered how honest this was. It all seemed so positive, almost too good to be true. At first, I thought, this could not be very honest. After all, we can't always agree with everything a client says, can we? And we can't always appreciate everything every client does, can we? We must disagree sometimes, mustn't we? And we must sometimes dislike something a client has done, mustn't we? If so, my reasoning was, is it not dishonest NOT to express these sentiments?

My current view on this topic developed gradually from reflecting on my experiences. Although I had these doubts about the solution-focused posture I decided to really try them out so that I could see how that would work. I really tried to practice the attitude of not knowing and leading from behind. I tried not to have any thoughts, bright ideas and judgments about clients and their situations but I had a hard time doing that. I noticed all kinds of opinions and ideas continued to pop up in my mind and I found it quite hard to not express them. After I got to know Insoo Kim Berg and talked with her about these issues, my understanding of them grew. When I asked whether she never had any opinions and judgments when talking to clients she explained that the point was not to not have any views and judgments. The point was that the solution-focused conversation took place within the client's view on reality. She explained that during the conversation you step into the world of the client with your one foot while the other foot remains firmly in your own world. During the conversation your own views may still be there, but they are not what the conversation is about.

After that, I allowed myself to have my own views and judgments. Whenever I noticed I had an irritation, a bright idea about a solution, a judgment, etcetera, I first allowed myself to have them but them immediately put them aside because I understood this conversation was not about me but about the client. Quite doable, I found.

Over time, I learned another thing which was to view my impulses, views and reflexes differently. Earlier, whenever a strong feeling or thought about a client or a client situation suddenly popped into my mind I found it very hard to put aside because I felt it had to be very important. Now, I often find it easier to give less weight to these sudden thoughts, impulses and ideas because I have seen how fast they can change. Now that I have become better at putting these impulses aside and focus on the client's perspective I have noticed time and again fast my views changed after I learned more about the client's situation. For instance, there was a situation in which, at the beginning of a conversation, I found the client rather arrogant. I put this impulse aside, saying to myself: this conversation is not about my views but about the client's perspective and I continued to inquire about his perspective. I was surprised to experience how my own view of this client shifted dramatically as the conversation proceeded. The solution-focused questions I asked helped the client to become more positive and constructive and to start looking more openly at other people and he started to discover things he might try differently himself. I actually started to like the client.

Shocking! Within a brief conversation my perspective on this client had changed a lot. At that point, I was glad that I had not expressed my negative view on him in any way. I realized that not expressing each and every view, impulse, and idea is not a matter of dishonesty. I not only realized that the conversation with your client is not about your views but about his. Furthermore, I realized how quickly your client's views and your own views can change through the solution-focused process. Now, when I think a client is arrogant, I often notice myself saying to myself something like: I'll bet I won't think that anymore when we've talked a bit longer.

5 comments:

  1. Hi Coert,
    to me you make a very good point with:

    "During the conversation your own views may still be there, but they are not what the conversation is about.
    After that, I allowed myself to have my own views and judgments. Whenever I noticed I had an irritation, a bright idea about a solution, a judgment, etcetera, I first allowed myself to have them but them immediately put them aside because I understood this conversation was not about me but about the client"

    I still find it difficult to put aside my own opinion when talking to people in a SF way. Nice to read that you had the same 'problem' but also that it can be learned to accept that you have your own opinion but put it aside for the duration of the conversation :-)

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  2. Disclaimer: I'm not a SFC practitioner BUT :) I think that Nonviolent Communication might provide an interesting view on why this works. NVC says that "needs" are 95% of the important stuff. While listening someone and connecting to their needs, empathy forms and it is this empathy that does the healing.

    The very things that prevent this empathic connection to form are "thoughts". If you move from your thoughts and judgments to the feelings and needs of the person, empathy is formed.

    In NVC, one of the first steps is to learn to separate observations from evaluations and judgments, feelings from thoughts, needs from strategies, requests from demands.

    I think that NVC complements SFC beautifully.

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  3. Hi Coert,

    I think I went through the same conversations with myself in coaching in an SF way. There is an interesting distinction for me: when people are stuck and don't know their way about something, I tend to coach in a strict SF way, firmly in their worldview. In a "developmental coaching" where someone does not really have a problem but gets the luxury of a 2 hour conversation with me every 3 weeks or so, paid by the company, I find myself more often also in my view: making comments, telling stories, asking things that come to my mind, etc. always, of course oriented at what the client wants, where she wants to go or what he wants to explore. The clients say that they really enjoy the "sparring" and that it is somehow helpful. Is is SF? I don't know ... I'd really love to record one of these conversations and see what other SFers think.

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  4. Working from the client's perception is central to SF, so it would not matter that much if the client's perception isn't compatible to that of the practitioner's as long as the practitioner works with the mindset that things are relative to each individual.

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  5. thanks Colinda, Peter, Eva and Kirsten for your comments.

    Hi Kirsten, your comment triggers the following with me. Gwenda Schlundt Bodien and I have a cooperation called NOAM. It is a Dutch network of solution-focused practitioners. Our newsletter, which comes out every week is read by nearly 4500 subscribers.

    We have sort of situational framework which distinguishes different situations and roles which fit to those situations: helping, directing, training and instructing. Each of those roles, in our view can be performed in a solution-focused way. (http://bit.ly/9FGuly)

    Sometimes, in coaching conversations we find, it can be very useful to switch roles, in particular from helping to training. Sometimes, it can be quite okay and useful to explain things to clients. I remember from conversations with Insoo, she also used this role switch freely when the situation was right.

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