The problem as the beginning of progress
In the progress-focused approach, a problem is often viewed as the potential beginning of progress. Both individual conversations and team sessions often start with discussing problems, things that are not going well or things that have gone wrong. Having problems is, of course, unpleasant and can lead to dissatisfaction, frustration or even a feeling of powerlessness.
Beyond the problem to progress
The progress-focused approach can be seen as a collection of ways of thinking and conversation techniques that are useful in moving from problem to progress. Techniques to get past the problem in the direction of progress include identifying the problem, defining the desired situation, mapping out what is already going well / has been achieved, analyzing previous successes and coming up with ideas for a step forward. You recognize the structure of the 7-steps approach.
Acknowledging the problem
Acknowledging the problem is an essential and sometimes underestimated step. It may not feel good to talk about a problem, but it is usually wise to do so. By doing this you can get a clear picture of where exactly the need for progress lies. What exactly does the person (or people) you are talking to want to change and for what purpose? By talking about this attentively, you get a good idea together about in which area / situation the progress should lie. You delineate the subject.
Energy for progress
Discussing calmly what the problem is and how it poses a problem to the person helps to see where the energy for progress lies within the person. You can view the frustration or dissatisfaction that the person feels as energy for progress.
Once you have done this, you can define the desired situation, which means that you invite the person to visualize what she/he would like that situation to look like. What would be better then? And what does the person do better? And how does that help? By answering these questions, the person can begin to see where to focus his or her energy for progress.
Getting a view of this the desired situation often feels as a relief. If you have a problem but don't know what you want to achieve, you may feel trapped within a negative. When you get an idea of what your desired situation looks like, you start to get the feeling that a way forward is possible.
Platform and previous success
Two other powerful techniques are the platform question and the previous success question. With the platform question you look at where the person is already on the way to the desired situation. What has he or she already achieved? What is already going well? In the previous success question you analyze together a situation from the past that already resembled the desired situation. Answering these two questions reinforces the person's sense of competence and optimism and often yields useful ideas for steps forward.
Some professionals are reluctant to talk about problems. They call it problem talk and they fear that talking about problems will only lead to more problems. But the latter can mainly happen in two types of circumstances.
The first is when the professional is the one to address problems first rather than the client. This can lead to problem induction. This means that the client did not feel that he or she had a problem, but after the conversation with the professional they did. We urge you to watch out for this. In general, we adhere to the client's frame of reference and do not impose any problems.
The second condition is when, in talking about problems, people dig for causes or look for culprits. The search for causes can be counterproductive because often no clear or definitive causes can be found. You can keep asking for every "cause": how come that cause was there? There is a danger that you will end up in a swamp and sink ever deeper into the problem.
Searching for culprits can also backfire as it can make people defensive. It can understandably make them fear that they will soon be blamed. It can make people point to each other instead of to solutions.
Problem as the start of progress
Problem acknowledgement is a useful form of problem talk. It is often a good start to make things better.
The problem can be the start of progress.