Research Paper By Nasos Fotopoulos
(Life Coach, GREECE)
With our questions, as coaches, we challenge their awareness, and help them to gain clarity in their visions, goals, and options; we support them as they put together their action plan, and as they move towards the realization of their dreams.
One of the main goals of a coach is to help someone to help themselves. The best solutions are not created for the client but from the client.
A solution-focused coaching approach stays clear of exploring what triggers a situation or problem. Rather, the coach asks the client such questions as: “What skills did you use successfully at the past?”, “If you woke up tomorrow and your problem was solved, how would you feel, or in what ways would you feel different than the way you are feeling now? “
Albert Einstein has said that no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.
The main goal of solution-focused coaching is for the client to have awareness of the solution. Consequent-ly, the coach’s questions aim at shifting the client’s perception and attention from the problem to the solution.
The client´s perspective, beliefs, and goals are fully respected in the coaching process. The coach doesn’t try to change the client. The approach is non-confrontational and non-judgmental.
There is a lot of solution-focused coaching techniques. Below there is a review of the most important of them, in my opinion.
The miracle question helps the clients to focus, in as much detail as possible, on what their preferred life will be like and then make them think about how they might get there, beginning with the very first step. Knowing exactly what they won’t allow them to develop a clear action plan. We can use it with all clients but especially with those who want to establish goals but they are stuck, perhaps having trouble thinking creatively or generate options. This question is an important tool for solution-focused coaching. The coach says to the client to suppose that they were to go home and at night, while they were asleep, a miracle happens. They don’t know anything about it, since they are asleep, but when they wake up the next morning, everything is different.
Then the coach asks the client: “When you wake up in the morning, how will you know the miracle happened? What else are you going to notice?”
The miracle question leads to great energy and new ideas for moving forward because it forces us to stop thinking about why we can’t achieve something and allows us to imagine how our life could be if something miraculous occurred. Often it is followed by the Scaling questions.
The Scaling questions can help the clients to realize where they are in the present moment and everything that helped them or not to be there. They help them to realize where they want to go and reflect on past times where they were closer to their desired situation, as well as to find out what small steps can move them higher to the scale. We can use scaling questions with clients who need to achieve goals, to find motivation, to gain confidence as well as for those who want to evaluate their progress.
Scaling questions are used to invite clients to rate an issue on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 stands for the worst that can happen, and 10 stands for the situation in which the client has fully solved their problem. The scaling question is known even to people who haven’t heard about the solution-focused coaching approach. Some examples of scaling questions are:
- On a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is your life the way you would want it to be and 1 is where things are as bad as they could possibly be, where are you now?
- What this point on the scale means to you?
- What would have to happen for you to notice a small improvement so that you could say things have moved up a little bit on the scale?
- On a scale of 1 to 10 how confident are you that things are going to get better?
The past success questions help the clients to become aware of their strengths and dig up resources and strategies they had used successfully in the past. We can use past success questions with all clients because realizing their strong points enables them to take themselves more seriously and develop confidence and healthy pride. The effect of those questions is very empowering because supports the clients to adopt a more positive view about themselves and focus on what serves them right.
The past success questions intend for reminding the clients how they had coped in the past with similar situations and what skills or behaviors they used to overcome their problems. Remembering one or more past successes and focusing on their strengths increases the confidence and the trust of the client to themselves and helps them to take a step forward to achieve their goals. Some examples of past success questions are:
- Have you ever been able to solve such a problem before?
- Have you ever confronted successfully a similar situation like the one you want to deal with now?
- What have you already achieved?
- What has helped to bring you to your current position?
By focusing on what has already been achieved the client can shift their perspective on their current situation.
The ideal future questions help the clients to raise the bar and visualize an ideal future. They allow them to dream and when we dream anything is possible. We can use the ideal future questions with clients who perceive insurmountable roadblocks in their way and they don’t allow themselves to think beyond them or with clients who want to express and give voice and attention to what they want to create or achieve. With these questions, the coach invites and encourages the client to describe how they would like their ideal future to be. Some ways in which these questions can be posed are:
- What does your ideal future looks like?
- How do you want your situation to become in order to get your ideal future?
When asking the ideal future question the client can easily build an image of it and become aware of what-ever it is they want. This results in being more motivated and enthusiastic to try out steps forward.
The exception to the problem questions helps the clients to identify exceptions to the rule so as not to feel so overwhelmed by a problem or challenge and be able to realize the things they already do to find a solution. We can use these questions with all clients because everyone has ups and downs, highs and lows, and great or less good times. By exploring the problem exceptions clients can find the strategies they used and create the same circumstances for the exception to happen more often.
In a solution-focused approach, an assumption is that the intensity of the problem is never the same. There are always times when the problem is less intense or doesn’t exist at all. These moments are very useful to the client because they can realize what is different in these specific moments. These exceptions may be the key for the client to solve the problem. What action or behavior have they taken and they managed to make the problem disappear or partly disappear? Another thing the exception question can offer to the client is the awareness of their strengths which have been obtained from their past experiences. These strengths may then be applied to the client’s current situation. Some exception to the problem questions are:
- Are there times when the problem does not happen?
- What was different?
- Tell me about times when the problem is less troubling or when it’s not happening at all What are you doing different when things are better?
The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated. – William James.
In solution-focused coaching acknowledging is done most effectively when done implicitly. An implicit acknowledgment is a part of a question. Instead of saying: “Well done, you did an excellent job!” you might ask “Well, how did you manage to accomplish this very hard task?”
When we ask a question in this way does not feel like a compliment or a reward. This drives the client to think about their accomplishments and how they did it. Receiving such an acknowledgment magnifies the client’s power. A well-delivered acknowledgment honors who the client had to be in a specific situation for the coach to acknowledge them for who they are being.
The “what is better” question is mainly asked in follow-up coaching sessions with the client to monitor the progress on a specific issue. The advantage of this type of question is that it helps the client to focus on the things that are moving the process in the right direction and consider their growth. This usually has a motivating effect; it often leads to more awareness of what works well and to use ideas about further steps forward. Noticing the clients that they are moving forward is supportive of making further changes.
In case we receive from our client an answer such as “nothing is better” or “I have no idea” we should be aware of the fact that most people need a few seconds and some encouragement from their coach and after a while, they start mentioning about their small steps of progress.
One of the effective solution-focused techniques is Normalizing because makes people understand that they are not alone communicated to them that having difficulties is very common to all people. We can say to our client “Of course, you are angry, I understand, it’s normal to be angry with this situation.” or “A lot of people are concerned about changing the patterns of their behavior.”
When we let clients know that many people have had this difficulty normalizes the experience. With this technique, coaches can help people to relax and to move on beyond their anger or any negative feeling which is normal to happen.
The useful questions are used a lot in solution-focused coaching. Their purpose is to make the session as useful as possible for both parts involved. Solution-focused coaches use useful questions at the beginning of the coaching session, during and at the end of the coaching session.
In the beginning, questions can be:
- How can we make this session as useful as possible?
- What do you want to get out of this session?
- How would you notice afterwards that this session has been worth your time?
During the session, questions can be:
- So far, has this session been useful to you?
if the an-swer is yes:
- What was useful for you?
- How was it useful?
if the answer is no:
- What are your ideas about how we can make the session more useful?
- How can we make the remaining time as useful as possible?
At the end of the session, questions can be:
- Has this session been useful to you?
- How is what we talked about useful to you?
By being asked useful questions, becomes easier for clients to focus on what they want to get out of their session, which their goals are, and be able to link the session to these goals.
The pay attention question can be applied when clients find it hard to identify earlier successes or exceptions to their problems. We can ask “Could you please between now and our next session, pay attention to situations in which things are a little bit better? When you notice that things are better, could pay close attention to what is different in that situation and to what you do differently yourself? Could you make a note of what is different and what you do differently so that we can talk about it at our next session?” The pay attention question has a clarity-inducing ability and often has an unexpectedly strong effect. This question makes the client notice more consciously about what goes right in their lives. Paying attention to whatever happens will show to our clients what their step will be.
Mutualizing means summarizing in such a way that all parties can agree with the summary. This technique is often used in situations in which two partners have disagreements (conflict resolution, marital issues, etc.) The mutualizing technique reframes issues in a way that all parties can agree to.
Let’s give an example “If one sibling says: ‘I know that the best for my mother is to stay in a place with specialized personnel.’
And the other sibling says: ‘I know that the best for my mother is to stay with us.’ Then the coach would say ‘It’s very clear that both of you want to develop a plan that will be best for your mother and you disagree at this point about what plan would be best, but you share the common goal of making the best plan for her. Is this a point where we can all agree?”
Instead of emphasizing the different positions and goals, the solution-focused coach mutualizes the com-mon interest for their clients to find out a solution. The coach addresses a common good intention to which all parties say yes.
Coaches can try the coping questions when other techniques don’t seem to work anymore and when the client says they are at 1 on the scale. These questions can illuminate and encourage capabilities in seeming-ly very frustrating situations. The coping questions help people in difficult times to find new energy and keep on dealing with their problems. By using the coping questions clients are helped to see that they are still able to do some things well.
These questions offer acknowledgment of things taken for granted and efforts have been made by the client and, more often than not, are not honored. By exploring past strategies of success, clients can become more aware of what it is exactly that keeps them going under such difficult circumstances. These questions help them to regain access to existing exceptions and offer them stronger motivation and will-power. Some examples of coping questions are:
- What keeps you going under such difficult circumstances?
- How do you manage with all this going on?
- What helps you to keep going even though things are really hard?
- Can you think of a time when you had faced difficulties and had to come up with a new way of thinking, how did you cope?
A solution-focused coaching technique that often works well is the continuation of questions. These questions help the clients to identify the things that don’t need to change in their lives.
Some examples of this kind of questions are “What happens in your situation that you want to continue to happen?” or “What doesn’t have to change because it is already going well enough?”
By asking these questions we state that the client does not have to change all the things in their lives and at the same time we acknowledge them for the things that work well. Inviting clients to focus on what does not have to change because is already going well enough, they usually get some new ideas about what they might do to have progress and can challenge their thinking patterns. These questions can center the client on creating awareness about the successful parts or components of their lives.
The solution-focused coaching approach has many benefits. It leads to good motivation and rapid and sustainable results and can make us an expert in what is going right in our life. It is based on opening new options for the client by asking questions that focus on designing solutions that can be reached, it leads us to build on success and it is an appreciative approach. Also, it is very useful for dealing with a wide range of problems and goals. This approach resembles more closely the dynamics of what makes coaching successful; powerful solution probing questions.
Coaching Plain & Simple: Solution-focused Brief Coaching Essentials, by Kirsten Dierolf (Author), Daniel Meier (Author), Peter Szabó (Author)
21 Solution-Focused Techniques