July 19, 2010

Anything that anyone does is an improvable skill

Every now and then, one of the coaches I train in the solution-focused approach, remarks something like: "Solution-focused coaching is great, but for me it is very hard because I am really an impatient person." Over the years, I have more and more come to the thought that we have to be careful of describing ourselves in these kinds of terms. Saying "I'm impatient" sounds like a mere description but it often also has the character of a declaration, as if your impatience defines you. It is like declaring this goal to be unattainable: "I am impatient, solution-focused coaching requires patience, therefore I won't be able to learn how to do it right."

This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, one by Robert H. Frank: "Our beliefs about human nature help shape human nature itself." Our believes about how good or competent we can be, determine our efforts or lack of efforts. If we define ourselves as impatient, what's the sense in trying to become more patient? After all, we are not patient but impatient.

A second quote by Geoffrey Colvin (photo) comes to my mind: "Anything that anyone does at work, from the most basic task to the most exalted, is an improvable skill." This, of course, brings us back to the growth mindset. Patience can be learned. Saying: "I'm really an impatient person", expresses a fixed mindset, which will keep you from even trying to learn and thereby will confirm itself. It is a self confirming belief.

Fortunately, changing from a fixed mindset isn't the hardest thing to do. In fact, it is easy. Peter Heslin and his colleagues taught managers a growth mindset in a 90 minute workshop. Back to learning to do solution-focused coaching. It can be done. Sure, it is not the easiest thing. But all the required skills can be acquired with deliberate practice. Even patience can be learned.


  1. But what if rather than "expressing a fixed mindset", the "I'm impatient" becomes a feedback for a specific approach, a specific reframing of SFC.

    I find SFC as the perfect fit for the impatient. It is after all... "a brief therapy".

    Maybe that person needed to hear more about the briefness of SFC.

  2. Hi Peter, sorry, I am afraid I do not precisely get what you are saying.

  3. I was trying to point to the fact that maybe the impatient coach was seeing SFC in a narrow field of view and maybe because he/she sees it like this you see him/her as having a fixed mindset.

    From exterior it looked very much like a reactive diagnosis.

    I do realize that you have more information available for that specific case to view the person as having a fixed mindset.

    Also, I agree that patience can be learned but also patience is relative. What it is impatient for someone can mean tons of patience for someone else.

  4. Hi Peter,

    Thank you. I meant to say something about the remark rather than a generalizing statement about the person. The remark in my view reflects a fixed mindset this way of viewing could be atypical of the person (and in fact, knowing this person well, I think it is).

    With regard to your last statement (patience is relative), I agree but I don't understand how it relates to what I am saying in the post.

  5. What I wanted to say is that what he sees as impatience might be due to using a narrow time frame rather than a fixed mindset. Changing his awareness of the timeframe might actually change his perspective on the amount of patience required.:)

    If he would have looked at SFC from a larger timeframe he would have seen that using SFC requires less patience because it requires less sessions (less time).

    From a wider point of view SFC is perfect for the impatient.

  6. Hi Peter, thank you for explaining. My experience is that there is a paradox with SF. While talking with a client everything seems to go very patiently, quietly, slowly. But then, when you 'zom out' and you look at what has been achieved over the course of a few conversations, or even in one conversation, results seem to have come very quickly.
    This is what Insoo Kim Berg meant when she said: going slowly might get you there faster

  7. Exactly! This is also one of the things I love about SFC. :)

    The value of slow has been praised for ages... From Aesop's "The Tortoise and the Hare" to current Zen masters like Thich Nhat Hanh who summarized his teaching to "Smile, breathe and go slowly." :)


Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner