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5 Suggestions for becoming a skilled #solutionfocus professional (guest post from Coert Visser @doingwhatworks)

February 1st, 2012 Posted in Solution Focus Tags: , , , ,

This is a guest post by Coert Visser,

The solution-focused approach, which was invented in psychotherapy in the 1980s, is now being discovered by many people in all kinds of professions such as coaches, social workers, managers, teachers, trainers, consultants, and project managers. Many people know the solution-focused approach from techniques such as scaling questions, the miracle question, past success questions, and coping questions. By using these and other types of solution-focused questions, the approach helps them to get a clearer picture of their desired situation and of what has already worked before. Many professionals who have started to apply solution-focused principles and techniques are pleased both by the response they get from their clients, employees, or students and by how fast it tends to lead to good results.

Professionals who have just begun to work solution-focused also notice that mastering it is not quite as easy as it might appear. They sometimes ask me for suggestions of how they might approach their learning process. Here are five suggestions based on my experience of what usually works well:

  1. Practice a lot: The basic assumptions and principles of the solution-focused approach can probably be understood within the span of a day, or so. But to master the skills may take many years. If you want to achieve excellence as a solution-focused coach your best chance of achieving it is to approach it as you would approach becoming an excellent musician. Set stretching learning goals focused on improving areas of performance which you are not satisfied about, practice a lot, get feedback and guidance, observe, discuss and learn from examples, keep practicing, reading, writing and immersing yourself in the subject matter. The more technically proficient you’ll become, the more this will free up your attention in conversations with clients to listen carefully to what they are saying and to respond adequately.
  2. Feel free to combine: Since no one can master all the solution-focused principles and techniques at once, it is a good thing that solution-focused principles can often be combined with models and tools from other approaches. To borrow a phrase from Canadian solution-focused consultant Alan Kay, solution-focused principles and techniques can often be ‘layered in’ into existing tools like a SWOT-analysis, or SMART goals.
  3. Don’t be too hard on yourself. When students of the solution-focused approach become more knowledgeable and skilled something paradoxical may happen. While they become better, they may feel they don’t make any progress or even become worse. There may be two reasons for this: 1) only when they are exposed to this new complexity, and when they become aware of how subtle the solution-focused approach works, they become aware of what they don’t know. In other words, their self-assessment is reduced because they also learn to judge their ability level more accurately. 2) While they are making progress they are often simultaneously becoming more demanding and raising the bar for themselves. When learning new complex skills please realize that it is not abnormal to feel as though you are not making progress. My suggestion is to be as affirmative and appreciative for yourself as you are for your clients. Also, ask yourself if your client found the conversation with you useful. Even when you found your performance disappointing your client may still have found the conversation very useful. That is what matters most.
  4. Keep an open mind: Every now and then, you may come across aspects of the approach which may not directly appeal to you. My suggestion is to not dismiss them too soon but instead to give these aspects a chance to prove themselves in practice. You might not understand and appreciate every aspect of the approach right away but you might do so later. 
  5. Remain skeptical: Don’t be convinced solely on the basis of anecdotes, case examples or what ‘authorities’ tell you. Keep trying things out, research them well, add your own inventions and build on what works. This way you may gradually develop your version of the solution-focused approach which is optimally suited for your purposes.  

If you are interested in the solution-focused approach I hope you find one or more of these suggestions useful and I’d love to hear about some of your experiences.


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