March 3, 2011

Gently Socratic

The solution-focused approach is sometimes compared to Socratic questioning. And while there indeed is some overlap between both approaches, I think there is also an important difference. While reading a new book by Elliot Aronson (his autobiography), Not by Change Alone: My Life as a Social Psychologist, I read the following interesting fragment:
.. I was developing a style that I would call "gently Socratic." Aron Gurwitsch had demonstrated the power of the Socratic method if questioning. But Gurwitsch's style was edgy; he knew the response he wanted and was impatient with students who didn't give it to him. I was learning not to reject answers I didn't like, but to follow the student's answer with a thought-provoking question that might lead the student to an interesting place.
I find "gently Socratic" a nice term. It seems to come close to what the solution-focused professional does.


  1. the "Socratic" method used by Plato's Socrates was known as a "Gadfly"...meaning Socrates was like a fly buzzing around that you could not get rid of. He prided himself on wrecking your foundation of what you thought you know, and then leaving you with no place to stand.
    Essentially he was a real asshole.
    This is not the role of Solutions focused, and Plato's Socrates would have scoffed at the idea of "you having the solution"

  2. Thank you, Mike. I agree with your general description although I personally had not thought of him as an asshole. In the Plato's desctiption of Socrates' dialogues I think he came across like that when talking to people who were pretentious. But in his conversations with his students I think he could be rather kind hearted.
    I agree the similarities between SF and SQ are at best superficial. Okay, he used questions, and he saw himself as not-knowing but his conversation partners usually did not feel more competent after talking to him.

  3. I like this post, I feel as if thinking about it helps me clarify in my mind a bit more the difference between questioning with a facilitation process in mind and questioning with a specific solution in mind. Thanks.

  4. I'm not surprised you like this quote, Todd. You once said you agreed with Richard Dawkins in many respect but wished he'd be a little more .. what was the word .. philosophically elegant?


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