April 7, 2011

10 misconceptions of solution-focused coaching: 3) The solution-focused approach can only be applied in 1-on-1 conversations

Here is #3 of my 10 misconceptions of solution-focused coaching: "The solution-focused approach can only be applied in 1-on-1 conversations".

This is an easy one. Many people know the solution-focused approach for its application with individuals, in therapy, coaching, career counseling, school counseling, and meditation. But from its origin the solution-focused approach has been applied with groups, too. The place where the basis of the solution-focused approach was developed was the Brief Family Therapy Center in Milwaukee. As the name of this institution suggests they provided therapy services for families. They did individual therapy, therapy with couples and therapy with families. Today, the solution-focused approach is applied in groups more than ever. The solution-focused approach is applied in team buildings with departments in organizations, in management teams, in school classes and it is even used to help achieve organization wide change. Here a list containing some examples of Solution-Focused Techniques in a Team Setting.

Is working with groups harder than working with individuals? In one sense it is perhaps not necessarily harder but more complex. As a solution-focused facilitator you are confronted with more complexity when working with a group. You interact with multiple people at the same time and these interactions may be very different. Some people may be very interested in participating and co-operating while other may be less interested. Another complexifying factor is that people in the group may interact with each other, too. Yet, I would hesitate to say that solution-focused working with groups is harder than with individuals. In fact, some aspects of groups may make it easier. In groups there always seem to be people who are willing to co-operate and participate. As solution-focused practitioner co-operating with these motivated people is a good place to start. Here is a post which illustrates an example of how starting with these customer-typical group members often makes it easier for the other people to start participating too: I never thought I'd say this, but ....

While working with groups a complication may be that complaints and problems are discussed in a serial way, one after the other. The first 20 minutes are used for a talking about a problem in purchasing; the next 20 minutes are used for problems in sales, and so forth. This serial way of discussing problems may be frustrating for participants in the discussion. Most people have to wait a long time before their problem or goal can be discussed and they disengage from the process. Often, at the end of the session little has been achieved. Is there an alternative? Yes. A solution that often works well is to make the process of identifying conversation topics parallel. Here is a description of how that may work: Canalizing energy and information in groups with post its.

A special case is the case in which solution-Focused practitioners often have to interview two clients at once who are in some kind of close relationship with each other (a dyad). This is called conjoint interviewing. In these situations it is often the case that one of them is more motivated that the other for the conversation. A complicating factor may be that they are angry at each other. Here is an example of how solution-focused coaches may approach such a situation: Focusing on the Relationship in Conjoint Solution-Focused Interviewing.

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