July 23, 2010

Can solution-focused practitioners be authentic?

I received a question about how authentic the solution-focused professional can be. The person who asked this said he thought the solution-focused approach is rather technical which stands in the way of being authentic. Recently I have written a post which tried to adress this topic. I'll repost it here.

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.


  1. This is a good point. SF is client-centered so the focus is on the client's view. However, what do you do if the client asks for your opinion or advice? Do you give the advice or do you do something else? If so, what do you do?

  2. Hi Rodney, thanks for your question. I'll answer it in a seperate post

  3. I love this piece. It's a question that sometimes goes through my mind.

    A related question that I sometimes have is whether complimenting the client on strengths/ resources/ progress might be misinterpreted by them as an endorsement of everything they are doing. It's especially a concern in my case, where I work with offenders.

    When I'm mindful of this, I find myself listening even harder to make sure that I am honest in my compliments & feedback.

  4. Hi Troy, thanks!

    Your response triggers three thoughts with me. I'll share them with you in the hope that they contain something interesting for you.

    1) if you are working with offenders, do you know the work by Mo Yee Lee, John Sebold, and Adriana Uken (see: http://ow.ly/2go41 and http://ow.ly/2go52)? maybe relevant for you,

    2) do you know the signs of safety approach? (http://ow.ly/2go5G),

    3) I know I am a bit of a deviant in SF circles in my opinion about complimenting on strenghts ... but I am rather reluctant about complimenting strengths. Here is some background on that: http://ow.ly/2go8z and http://ow.ly/2go8Y and http://ow.ly/2go9m

    thanks again,

  5. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Coert!

    1. Yes, I have a copy of Lee, Sebold & Uken's book. Haven't touched it in a while, though.

    2. Have heard of signs of safety, though I don't know much about it. Thanks for the lead!

    3. Yes, I've noticed some of your previous posts on this. Now that you mention it again, it does suggest that focussing on what works in the process of change/ growth, rather than on a fixed property of the individual can overcome some of these potential challenges by drawing attention to the goal and the process of moving towards it.


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