April 28, 2011

4 Questions for solution-focused self-coaching

Today, a few people I spoke were reflecting on self-coaching. One person wondered to what extent that would be useful and another person reflected on how solution-focused questions might help. My view is that the solution-focused approach can be very useful for self-coaching, indeed. Here are 4 questions for solution-focused self-coaching:
  1. Change desire: What would I like to be different and what is my reason for wanting this?, 
  2. Desired situation: How would I like my situation to become, what would I like to be able to do?, 
  3. Past success: When have I, in a more or less comparable situation, already been able to achieve something like that?, 
  4. Step forward: What has been useful in reflecting on this and what small step forward might I take? 

April 27, 2011

Paranormality - Why we see what isn't there

There is a new book by psychologist Richard Wiseman (also author of the book 59 seconds). The book is called Paranormality and it is about the science into beliefs in supernatural phenomena. Interesting stuff for skeptical thinkers. Pleasantly written and very informative.

Book description: "For the past twenty years, psychologist Professor Richard Wiseman has immersed himself in the weird world of supernatural science; testing telepaths, spending nights in haunted castles, and attempting to talk with the dead. In Paranormality he cuts through the hype and goes in search of the truth behind extraordinary stories of poltergeists, possession and second sight. And along the way, he shows us some really rather remarkable things about how our brains work, how it is possible to have an out-of-body experience or lucid dream of our own, and just why we feel the need to believe. . ."

April 26, 2011

Routes to wellness

Imagine two axes, one about feeling good (being happy and satisfied with your life) and the other one about doing good (adding value to the world). If we combine those two axes we get four quadrants, let's call them A, B, C, and D (see the picture below). Quadrant A is the least attractive (not feeling good and not doing good); quadrant D, the most attractive.

Here is a question: Imagine you are in quadrant A and you would like to end up in quadrant D. What seems like the best route you might take: route 1, which goes from A, via B to D, or route 2, which goes from A via C to D?


April 24, 2011

10 Quotes from Everything is Obvious by Duncan Watts

Duncan Watts is a physicist interested in complex systems and sociology. In 1998 he co-wrote a paper with Steven Strogatz which presented a mathematical theory of the small world phenomenon. In 2002, he replicated Stanley Milgram's small world experiment using email messages. He is the author of Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age. His new book is Everything Is Obvious: *Once You Know the Answer. In this book he shows how common sense reasoning misleads us into believing that we understand more about the world of human behavior than we do; and in turn, why attempts to predict, manage, or manipulate social and economic systems so often go wrong. Here are some quotes from the book:

April 22, 2011

"Can't you just give me some advice?"

Someone asked me the following: "Regarding leading from behind, I've experienced from my solution-focused coaching sessions that not all clients are comfortable with this since they pay me to give them certain answers or direct advices to their issues. Some don't want to waste time talking and talking and they jump to ask (what is my advice or what I think?). Do you have any idea about dealing with this kind of clients?"

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.

April 20, 2011

10 misconceptions of solution-focused coaching: 9) Solution-focused coaches always should give many compliments

Here is #9 of my 10 misconceptions of solution-focused coaching: "Solution-focused coaches always should give many compliments".

Solution-focused practitioners do use compliments
It is well known that solution-focused practitioners frequently use compliments in conversations with clients but they don't just compliment about everything. Compliments have a specific function. They are pointers to solutions. Any compliments solution-focused coaches make are focused on behaviors which seem to be related to progress in the direction of the desired situation. Skillful compliments strengthen the sense of competence and autonomy of clients as well the relationship between coaches and clients.

10 misconceptions of solution-focused coaching: 8) The solution-focused approach does not work with young children and people who are verbally weak

Here is #8 of my 10 misconceptions of solution-focused coaching: "The solution-focused approach does not work with young children and people who are verbally weak".

Language plays a crucial role in solution-focused conversations
In all the essential stages of solution-focused conversations language plays a crucial supportive role. Through language clients try to explain what they expect of conversations, what may be bothering them, what they would like to achieve, what has already been achieved, what has been achieved, and what next step they might take. Solution-focused coaches know that the way things are said often has very specific meanings for the client so they try to match the language of the client by using the key words of the client. Experienced solution-focused professionals are skillful in the use of their own language. They say things that make the client feel appreciated and understood, they may reframe what the client has said, and they ask carefully crafted questions which help the client make progress. Mo Yee Lee, John Sebold and Adriana Uken, authors of the book Solution-Focused Treatment of Domestic Violence Offenders: Accountability for Change describe how carefully solution-focused professionals use language as follows: "People who use conversation to facilitate change should be as serious about words as musicians are about notes".

April 19, 2011

10 misconceptions of solution-focused coaching: 7) In the solution-focused approach only the goals of the client are important

Here is #7 of my 10 misconceptions of solution-focused coaching: "In the solution-focused approach only the goals of the client are important".

While goals of the client are always important, of course, the reason for the solution-focused conversation can also be an 'external' one. Here, I'll go into two types of external reasons.

Mandated clients
Clients may be mandated to have a conversation with a therapist or a coach. A first example is when a convicted domestic violence offender has to participate in a solution-focused treatment program (more about this here). A second example is a client who is sent to a coach by his manager because his manager thinks this is necessary. A third example is a child who is sent to a solution-focused coach by his mother because the mother things the child is experiencing (or causing) problems. In all of these cases the initiative did not lie with the person whom with the solution-focused professional has the conversation with but with someone else. In those cases there are external goals, requirements or expectations which play a role in the conversation. Here are some examples of questions solution-focused professionals might use in such cases:

April 17, 2011

What can you do when clients describe an unrealistic desired scenario?

Pooja asked me the following question: "I wanted suggestions on following: I sometimes get stuck when the client gives a desirable scenario but says it is an impossible scenario".

Some suggestions:
It is not uncommon that clients start off saying things that are not so realistic or helpful and then, with your help, gradually start talking in more constructive and realistic ways. In fact, this is a common pattern. Usually, several things help. By going slowly and following the client's perspective all the time, clients are encouraged to explore their views and wishes further. When someone says something unrealistic like: "I'd like to win the lottery", there are several ways of responding which all may work well. One is: "Sure, you'd like that, who wouldn't?", and smile. Often clients will then proceed to more realistic scenarios. Another one is: "Imagine that would indeed happen, what would then be possible for you? What could you then do?" This one often works well too. With the desired situation it helps to keep asking until the client starts describing positive behavior of him or herself in the future. When clients themselves say of their scenario: "But that is impossible" you may just wait and/or encourage them to talk on. The most likely thing is they will proceed to describe something that is more realistic. Or you may invite them in that direction, for instance by asking: "What might be a more realistic scenario?"

April 16, 2011

"Only the third time these questions are asked you can really answer them"

One part of our solution-focused coaching course is that a live client gets interviewed by several participants. This live client does not play a role but comes with an actual problem or wish. As trainers we interview the live client afterwards and ask him or her two questions: 1) from your perspective, what would you say the coach did that worked? and 2) what suggestions do you have for the coach?

Yesterday, there was a live client who made an interesting remark about what one of the coaches had done that had worked: “The coach was very tenacious. When I had not answered the question completely he repeated his question; sometimes in the same words, sometimes in slightly different words.” When we asked this live client how this had helped she said: "Those questions are quite hard so it helps when they are asked several times. Only the third time these questions are asked you can really answer them.”

April 15, 2011

Interview with me by Paolo Terni

Paolo Terni did an interview with me.

Q: Can you briefly tell us how you got interested in the solution-focused approach?

A: Before I heard about the solution-focused approach I was working as an associate director at a very large international consultancy firm. I felt a certain dissatisfaction with my work which I did not fully understand. Somehow, I decided to reflect carefully and came up with the question: when did I really feel gratified with my work? When thought about this deeply I discovered to my great surprise that the four or five situations of gratification which I had identified were rather strange cases. They were situations in which I had worked with clients and in which I had worked quite differently from what was normal for the firm and for myself. Yet, the clients had been very satisfied.

April 14, 2011

10 misconceptions of solution-focused coaching: 6) Solution-focused work is fundamentally different from every other approach

Here is #6 of my 10 misconceptions of solution-focused coaching: "Solution-focused work is fundamentally different from every other approach".

SF is different from main stream change approaches
I think we can safely say that the solution-focused approach is rather different, in several aspects, from main stream approach to coaching and problems solving. Some notable differences are the following: 1) solution-focused helpers generally do not search for causes of problems and do not try to form a diagnosis for problematic behavior but help clients construct positive goals and help them move towards those goals, 2) solution-focused helpers generally do not offer advice but helps clients to identify solutions themselves which are rooted in their own experience, 3) solution-focused helpers do not do not suggest a change process according to a predetermined blueprint approach but an small steps approach which can be described as a test-and-learn approach.

April 13, 2011

Agency in a traumatic situation

A guest post by Stanus Cloete from South Africa (www.agosolf.co.za)

The past week I was asked by the police to assist three employees on site after being traumatised by a single armed robber who robbed the small convenient store. Fortunately none of the employees were physically hurt. I saw the three clients individually right after the police took their statements.

April 8, 2011

Challenging the standard definition of success

"People don’t start out to be successful — they start out to be very good at what matters to them. And when timing and circumstances come together, then they end up with success. One of the issues we are very clear about is that success needs to be redefined. This is because if you read the definition of success in the dictionary, it sounds like it was written for sociopaths. If you go to Oxford or Webster — whether you take a dictionary from either side of the Atlantic — they define success in the same way, as the accumulation of influence, power, wealth and accolades. We see a lot of people chasing that kind of success. What’s remarkable is that a few people whom we talked to have achieved that kind of success, but it was never their goal. A lot of people are experiencing incredible success. Although they don’t think about it per se, they have rich lives and they are having an impact that will probably benefit the world way beyond their lifetime. The traditional definition of success doesn’t fit their lives at all. What we have here is an historic opportunity to start a global dialogue about success. That’s our intention — to challenge Webster to alter its dictionary definition.”
~Stewart Emery, co-author of Success built to Last

10 misconceptions of solution-focused coaching: 5) If someone does not want to change it is not useful to have a solution-focused conversation with that person

Here is #5 of my 10 misconceptions of solution-focused coaching: "If someone does not want to change it is not useful to have a solution-focused conversation with that person".

When clients are motivated to bring about change in their situation and are willing to discuss this with a solution-focused helper we speak of a customer-typical interaction between that client and the helper. When this is the case clients see the usefulness of the conversation, welcome help and are prepared to take steps to improve their situation. But not all clients who go into coaching or therapy are voluntary clients who are self-motivated to change. Both in therapy and coaching there are often clients who are involuntary clients or so-called mandated clients. In coaching, an example may be an employee who is demanded by his manager to go into coaching to help solve some problem or accomplish some goal. In therapy a client may be court-mandated, for instance in the case of domestic violence offenders. When this is the case we speak of a visitor-typical interaction between helper and client. There are also clients who see the usefulness of the conversation with the helper but they behave helpless and they complain. In this case we speak of a complainer-typical interaction between helper and client. These clients may not want to change their own behavior but rather want other people or circumstances to change.

April 7, 2011

10 misconceptions of solution-focused coaching: 4) The miracle question and scaling questions are indispensable in solution-focused conversations

Here is #4 of my 10 misconceptions of solution-focused coaching: "The miracle question and scaling questions are indispensable in solution-focused conversations".

It is always hard to define coaching and therapy approaches such as the solution-focused approach. What is the essence of the approach and what are its essential ingredients? And is the way we defined it once still valid now? After all, as time goes on knowledge proceeds and approaches evolve. The miracle question and scaling questions are probably the two best known solution-focused interventions. But do they form the essence of the approach? Are they indispensable  Some people may answer these questions affirmatively.  For research purposes it is often even required to include both in order to be able to speak of solution-focused conversations.

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.

April 6, 2011

10 misconceptions of solution-focused coaching: 2) There is no room for expressing emotions in solution-focused conversations

Here is #2 of my 10 misconceptions of solution-focused coaching: "There is no room for expressing emotions in solution-focused conversations".

Solution-focused interventions primarily focus on behavior, not on emotions
In their interventions, solution-focused professionals constantly keep on guiding clients toward behavioral descriptions of their desired situations. This helps clients to get a sense of direction, it enables them to track progress and it energizes them. In fact, as soon as positive behavior descriptions are made by clients this triggers a tendency to start performing those behaviors (more about this here). I think it is fair to say that in the solution-focused approach there is less attention to emotions. For example, neither the classic book Interviewing for solutions nor the more recent Handbook of solution-focused brief therapy even mentions the word 'emotion' in their indexes.

April 5, 2011

10 misconceptions of solution-focused coaching: 1) In solution-focused conversations it is not useful to talk about problems

Some time ago I posted 10 misconceptions of solution-focused coaching. I got a few requests to explain a bit more about each of the points mentions on the list. I'll start with misconception No. 1: "In solution-focused conversations it is not useful to talk about problems".

Solution-focused conversations are more about solution-talk than about problem-talk
The solution-focused approach clearly has a positive focus. Solution-focused practitioners help their clients develop a clear picture of what they want to achieve and facilitate a process of solution-building. Here is an example of how a solution-focused practitioner is constantly helping to shift the focus of the conversation from negative to positive: Past present future X negative positive. One way of explaining how solution-focused conversations work is by the distinction between problem-talk and solution-talk. Steve de Shazer, co-developer of solution-focused brief therapy, once said: "Problem talk creates problems, solution talk creates solutions!" Briefly, the idea behind this statement is that asking questions about how and why problems have developed can inadvertently lead to more problem talk. Asking about who did what wrong and why is risky, indeed. People might interpret these types of questions as attacks and they may become defensive and hostile. Also, the search for problem causes often seems to escalate because one can keep going on endlessly asking why things went wrong. When problem talk goes on and on, the client's hope may be undermined.

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