The standard approach to problem-solving insists there is a cause and effect between problems and solutions. However, the Solutions-Focused approach to coaching skips over the continuous delving and search for what causes problems and goes straight for the solution. It focuses on solutions, not problems, strengths, not weaknesses, and on what’s going well, rather than what’s gone wrong.
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What is the solution-focused approach?
Solution-focused is a present and future-forward approach to helping individuals reach a goal or solve a problem without focusing on the problem.
Solution-Focused is a proven and practical approach to positive change within people, relationships, and organizations. It goes against the standard method of solving problems by focusing solely on the solution.
Problems are often looked at as challenges. And when we think of challenges, we often believe that they are challenging to overcome. The solution-focused points out the solutions, the skills, strengths, and resources in people, which motivates them to accomplish their goals.
Solution-focused is an evidence-based approach that stems from solution-focused therapy. Solution-focused therapy was founded in the late 1970s by sociologists Steve de Shazerv and Insoo Kim Berg in collaboration with their colleagues at the Milwaukee Brief Family Therapy Center.
Solution-focused then moved on to be used as a coaching tool in organizations for workplace problems and to deal with executives, teams, and people.
In recent years, it has been used in life coaching. Ayisha Amatullah, the founder of Universal Coach Institute, was one of the first to use and teach solution-focused for life coaching and developed a solution-focused life coaching model.
Solution-focused focuses on the following:
- The solution, not the problem – focusing on the problem does not lead to a solution; focusing on the solution leads to a solution. Albert Einstein said, ‘No problem can be solved by the same consciousness that created it.
- Strengths, not weaknesses – reaching a goal or resolving a problem is easier when you work with what you are already good at instead of going backward and trying to enhance what you are not good at.
- What’s going right, not what’s going wrong – Identify what’s going right and do more of it. Focusing on what’s going wrong can be stressful and will make the situation look like there is no solution in sight. However, identifying what’s going right gives the individual hope that everything is not all bad.
The more the positives are discussed, the easier the situation appears, and the more motivated the individual will be to move forward.
When to use the solution-focused approach in coaching?
Solution-focused can be used in many types of situations. However, the best times to use the solution-focused approach in coaching are when an individual:
- needs to find a solution to a problem
- needs an immediate solution
- family or couples conflict
- workplace challenges
- goal setting
Benefits of using the solution-focused approach in coaching
- Individuals will feel empowered because the conversation will be about all the things they can do.
- It cuts the complaining – From the start of the conversation, the coach asks the individual questions that move them forward.
- It builds self-esteem – In solution-focused, the coach focuses on all the positives and what the individual already has going for them to help solve the problem. This builds self-esteem and confidence to solve the problem.
- It creates awareness in individuals – Using the future perfect technique makes the individual aware of what they truly want, and the scaling makes them aware of how much of the future perfect they already have going for themselves.
- It gives the client hope from the very beginning. Since we don’t focus on the problem, it gives the client hope from the start.
Key Concepts of the Solution-Focused approach
Important concepts the coach and individual should live by when arriving at solutions include:
- Don’t fix what isn’t broken – if the individual is already doing something that works or something that helps move them toward the solution, it’s best to just leave it alone and not make any changes to it that could potentially break it.
- Find what works and do more of it – In addition to not making changes, they should also do more of it to increase the chances of results.
- Stop doing what doesn’t work and do something else – If the individual discovers that what they are doing does not work, stop. Do not focus efforts on problems, weaknesses, or things that do not produce a result.
Solution-Focused Questions and Interventions
In the solution-focused approach to coaching, questions are asked in a way to shift the client’s attention away from the stressful problem towards the solution. Instead of asking questions that emphasize the problems, difficulties, and causes, the coach asks questions that explore the individual’s goals, exceptions that have led to success in the past, questions about times when the problem was less severe, the ideal outcome, and questions about existing resources.
Can you tell me about the problem?
What do you want to change?
In the solution-focused conversation, the coach or the helper looks for anything that counts, called “counters.” Counters are the resources that are already present and are likely helpful in helping the individual find solutions.
- Examples of the solution happening already – Sometimes, the solution is right in front of our face, and we don’t even realize it.
- Evidence of parts of the solution happening.
- Strengths, skills, and resources that will help to create the solution
- Cooperation from others involved
The goal is to collect as many counters as possible to help search for what works.
Examples of Counter Finding Questions:
Past Success Questions
- Have you had a problem similar to this before? How did you handle that problem?
- With all that has been happening in your life lately, I’m wondering how you are managing to cope with all this?
- How did you keep it from getting worse?
- What have you found that helps manage this situation?
- What keeps you going under these difficult circumstances?
Often when we want to solve a problem, we indulge in problem-talk. We complain and talk badly about the problem. In solution-focused, we use reframing questions to get the individual to look at the situation in another way and engage them in problem-free talk.
- What was it like before the problem existed?
- What is the positive in this experience?
- What else could this situation mean?
- What did you learn from this?
- What other ways could you look at this?
The “future perfect” is a technique used to help the individual describe how they would like the situation to be. On the surface, it may appear that the goal of the “future perfect” is to create hope through visualization. However, the future perfect technique has a deeper purpose. A trained professional will listen to the individual’s “future perfect” and be able to find counters, exceptions, possible solutions, and even a possible action plan.
The most popular solution-focused future perfect intervention is the Miracle Question. The Miracle Question is a method of questioning used to aid an individual in envisioning how the future will be different when the problem is no longer present.
“Suppose tonight you go to bed and go to sleep as usual. And during the night, a miracle happens. And the problem vanishes. And the issues that concern you are resolved, but you’re still asleep. Therefore, you don’t know that the miracle has happened. When you wake up tomorrow, what will be the first things that will tell you that the miracle has happened? How will you know that the transformation has occurred?”
Recommended Reading: The Miracle Question with Examples, Worksheets, Exercises, & Demo Video
Scaling invites an individual to measure and track their progress and experience. Scaling in Solution-Focused is used to identify what the client already has working for them in reference to the future perfect.
- On a scale of 0 – 10, with 10 being the overall outcome or future perfect and 0 being absolutely nothing at all, where would you say you are?
- What have you done so far to get to that number?
- What would it take to get to the next number on the scale?
- What would it take to get a 10?
When an individual has a problem, that problem is not present all the time. Most problems are only happening occasionally. There are times when the problem is not happening at all or is happening to a lesser degree. Helping an individual to notice these times can help reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed by the problem and help identify things they or others are already doing to solve the problem.
The goal is for the client to repeat what has worked in the past and help them gain confidence in making improvements for the future.
Example Exception Questions:
- Was there a time when this problem was not a problem or when it presented itself with less severity? What was it like at that time? What were you doing at that time?
- When does the future perfect happen? Even a little bit? What do you suppose you did to make that happen?
- Can you think of any other times, either in the past or in recent weeks, that you didn’t have the problem? What would you say you are doing differently during those times?
- What resources, strengths, skills did you use during those times?
Affirming is about providing positive feedback of what the coach or helping professional heard. The professional will reflect and repeat back the counters, possible solutions, exceptions, strengths, and attributes the individual has revealed during the session to help the individual make a decision on where to start to move towards the solution.
Solution-Focused Questions Using the OSKAR Coaching Model
OSKAR is a well-known solution-focused coaching model. It was created by Mark McKergow and Paul Z. Jackson and published in their book: The Solutions Focus: Making Coaching and Change SIMPLE.
[Full Disclosure: As an affiliate, I receive a commission if you purchase this book on Amazon once you click the link]
OSKAR stands for Outcome, Scaling, Know-How, Affirm, and Review.
- What is the objective of this coaching?
- What do you want to achieve today?
- What do you want to achieve in the long term?
- How will you know this coaching has been of use to you?
- On a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 representing the worst it has ever been and 10 the preferred future, where would you put the situation today?
- On a scale of 1 – 10, where 1 represents x and 10 represents y, where are you in relation to this goal.
- You are at n now; what did you do to get this far?
- How would you know you had got to n+1?
Know-How & Resources
- What helps you perform at n on the scale rather than 0?
- When does the outcome already happen for you – even a little bit?
- What did you do to make that happen? How did you do that?
- What skills/knowledge/attributes do you currently have that will help you?
- When have you done this/something similar before?
- What would others say is working for you?
- What did you do differently?
Affirm & Action
- What’s already going well?
- What’s particularly impressive so far – about strengths and resources employed?
- What is the next small step?
- What would you like to do personally, straight away?
- You are at n now; what would it take to get you to n+1?
Review: What’s better?
- What did you do that made the change happen?
- What effects have the changes had?
- What do you think will change next?
- What is better?
Solution-Focused Example Coaching Session
If you would like to learn how to use the miracle question in coaching check out the Life and Solution-Focused Coach Training program.