Making Positive Change: A Randomized Study Comparing Solution-Focused vs. Problem-Focused Coaching Questions
By Anthony M. Grant
Abstract: This study compared the effects of problem-focused and solution-focused coaching questions on positive and negative affect, self-efficacy, goal approach, and action planning. A total of 225 participants were randomly assigned to either a problem-focused or solution-focused coaching condition. All participants described a real-life problem that they wanted to solve and set a goal to solve that problem. They then completed a set of measures that assessed levels of positive and negative affect, self-efficacy, and goal attainment. In the problem-focused coaching condition 108 participants then responded to a number of problem-focused coaching questions and then completed a second set of measures. The 117 participants in a solution-focused coaching session completed a mirror image of the problem-focused condition, responding to solution-focused questions including the “Miracle Question.”
Both the problem-focused and the solution-focused coaching conditions were effective at enhancing goal approach. However, the solution-focused group had significantly greater increases in goal approach compared to the problem-focused group. Problem-focused questions did not impact on positive or negative affect or self-efficacy. In contrast the solution-focused approach significantly increased positive affect, decreased negative affect, and increased self-efficacy. In addition, the solution-focused group generated significantly more actions steps to help them reach their goal. Although real-life coaching conversations are not solely solution-focused or solely problem-focused, agents of change should aim for a solution-focused theme in their work if they wish to conduct effective goal-focused sessions.