April 21, 2011

10 misconceptions of solution-focused coaching: 10) The solution-focused approach is touchy-feely and idealistic

Here is #10 of my 10 misconceptions of solution-focused coaching: "The solution-focused approach is touchy-feely and idealistic".

Doesn't showing so much understanding undermine the person's willingness to change?
When people observe a solution-focused conversation they sometimes get the impression that the approach is very touchy-feely. This impression may rise because of the patience and acknowledgment which solution-focused professionals show for their clients. They do no confront and show much understanding for clients even when clients say and do things which do not seem to be so constructive. When people see this they may worry that so much understanding and patience will perhaps hurt the other person's willingness to change or to adapt to other people's needs.
Paradox: feeling taken seriously opens people up
But here is a paradox at play. When coaches do not show understanding for the perspective of clients these clients may feel not taken seriously and become defensive or angry. This may make them less willing to cooperate with the coach. When coaches are appreciative and understanding the opposite is likely to happen: clients feel taken seriously, feel safe and become more willing to cooperate with the coach. They are likely to become more open to think about the questions and suggestions by the coach.

Understandingness can go hand in hand with a  results focus
Showing understanding and appreciation does not mean we have to let go of our focus on results. On the contrary, it is likely to make it easier to keep focusing on results, however counter-intuitive this may sound. Being patient and understanding is no sign of weakness but rather a sign of strength. It shows that you are not afraid of losing your results focus by showing understanding for the perspective of your conversation partner.

Focus on positive behavior
In addition to this, solution-focused coaches are not primarily focused on emotions in the conversation. While emotions may play a positive role in the solution-focused process, coaches ask questions and say things which primarily are not focused on emotions but on positive behaviors in the future, the present and the past. Also, the solution-focused approach can hardly be accused of being too idealistic. Instead of focusing the attention of clients on an idealistic future, solution-focused coaches generally are more pragmatic and modest. They may ask clients questions like: "How would you notice things would have become a bit better?", "What would be acceptable for you?", "What small step might you take?". The focus is on making and noticing small improvements rather than on perfect of ideal situations.

It is not touchy-feely
In 2004, I interviewed solution-focused pioneer Insoo Kim Berg and asked her: "Sometimes people think that the solution focus is touchy-feely. What do you think about that?" She replied: "People might get that impression of touchy-feely because the way you phrase your interventions softens so much. It is very helping and understanding. But it is also very goal oriented. And it is not touchy-feely."


  1. It is touchy-feely. And, it's concrete. As Mr Einstein said: 'The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.'

  2. In science there is an essential role for both intuition and rationality. Science may be viewed as consiting of two stages. The first is the stage of discovery. In this stage ideas are formulated. In this stage anything goes. It does not matter how these ideas come about. I think intuitive creativity plays a leading role here. through it, hypothesis are formed about which patterns there may be in reality. The second stage is the stage of justification. In this stage, hypothesis are rigorously tested against reality. As science evolves the interplay between intuition and rationality continues forever. In everyday live we may function more or less accordingly. I believe there is a place for both intuition and rationality.


Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner