1. Editorial: Would you rather be happy now?
I have met several people this week who have been talking about how they could be happy in the future. My aspiration is to be happy in the present.
Anthony Robbins has a set of questions that he uses to focus on positive outcomes. I thought you might like to see them.
Our life experience is based on what we focus on. The following questions are designed to cause you to experience more happiness, excitement, pride, gratitude, joy, commitment and love every day of your life. Remember, quality questions create a quality life.
Come up with two or three answers to all of these questions and feel fully associated. If you have difficulty discovering an answer simply add the word “could”. Example: “What could I be most happy about in my life now?”
Anthony Robbins is coming to London in October (15-18) to deliver his famous "Unleash the Power Within" seminar. I attended the very first one in Birmingham many years ago, including the firewalk. It is certainly a worthwhile experience – both for personal development and for modelling a great presenter. Find out more.
I am pleased to welcome another contributor author from my recent overseas trip. I met Roland Nagel on a beautiful afternoon in Sydney. He sent me a contribution about coaching with a solutions focus. Many thanks Roland.
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Many thanks for How to get out of a rut. Manna from Heaven.
I offer back as a gift – when working with high output, low personal achievement people my most powerful intervention is – “Choose what you will fail at and make it public”. In a world gone mad about positive speaking it is hard to get this one across and when it works it is the most powerful moment of choice.
SkillNet UK Limited
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These techniques can be used with teams, boards, or on your own when you need a fresh perspective. They are suitable for a short intervention or a meeting held for the specific purpose of generating new ideas [MORE].
2. Coaching notes: Coaching with a Solutions Focus
“Each problem that I solved became a rule which served afterwards to solve other problems”
Descartes (1596 – 1650)
French philosopher and mathematician
In most coaching situations, identifying and analysing a problem becomes the precursor for action planning and subsequent change. Breaking from this traditional mould, ‘solutions focused coaching’ emphasises the solution rather than the problem, the future rather than the past and a positive focus on ‘what is going well’ rather than the negative approach of what is ‘not working’.
Based on an originally therapy-based application devised by Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg, Solutions Focused (SF) Coaching:
In his book ‘Keys to Solution in Brief Therapy’ , Steve de Shazer describes a ‘solutions focus’ with the following metaphor:
"The complaints that clients (coachees) bring to (the coach) are like locks in doors that open onto a more satisfactory life. The clients have tried everything they think is reasonable, right and good and what they have done was based on their true reality, but the door is still locked, therefore they think their situation is beyond solution. Frequently, this leads to greater and greater efforts to find out why the lock is the way it is or why it does not open. However, it seems clear that solutions are arrived at through key rather than through locks; and skeleton keys (of various sorts) work in many different kinds of locks. An intervention only need to fit in such a way that the solution evolves. It does not need to match the complexity of the lock. Just because the complaint is complicated does not mean that the solution needs to be as complicated.”
There are a number of ‘tools’ which can be used in solutions focused coaching. These are not ‘physical tools’ such as 360 feedback or other survey instruments often used in executive, team and other workplace coaching, but SF ‘tools’ are more techniques that can be used systematically to help reach the solution:
It is essential to establish the ‘platform’ or starting point so that the difference between it and the ‘future perfect’ (described next) can be defined and, once achieved, recognised. From the platform, goals can be set which then become milestones for monitoring progress towards the achievement of the desired outcome. Clarity about their goals helps people create practical solutions.
There are different terms, which can refer to the ‘future perfect’ such as the Magic Future, Ideal Final Result, Documentary of Success or just the Miracle. ‘Future Perfect’ is a tool used to help the coachee describe what would the situation be like if the problem went away overnight.
In prefacing the ‘Miracle Question’, the coach asks the coachee to pretend that, when arriving at work one morning, the problem has been solved due to an overnight ‘miracle’. The coachee is asked to describe what is now different at work because of this miraculous occurrence.
When de Shazer introduced this concept, he discussed it in terms of the ‘crystal ball’ technique. It is used to project the coachee into a future that is successful. De Shazer contends that by simply having the coachee view his or her future in a ‘crystal ball’, this can be enough to pre-empt different behaviour thereby leading to a solution.
The rationale behind the ‘miracle’ question is not just to describe solution but also to help the coachee articulate how it can be recognised. Therefore, when the solution is realised, the coachee will be in a position to accept that it has actually occurred.
Once the ‘future perfect’ has been described, the coachee may observe ‘exceptions’ or ‘counters’. An exception may occur when an aspect of the ‘future perfect’ or something even starting to resemble it, has happened. In other words, an exception is a time when the problem does not happen, happens less or is less severe. Within these exceptions or counters, the door to the solution may start to open.
An application of the term, ‘the exception proves the rule’ is useful to help explain this concept. For example, a manager may have constant difficulty facilitating staff meetings. During a coaching session, an ‘exception’ is revealed when the meeting was well run. The coachee then identifies what made the meeting successful on this occasion and uses this as a basis for conducting future meetings. The coach’s questions enable the manager to see the exception to the rule and adopt this approach in facilitating future staff meetings.
Following from ‘counters’ the coach helps the coachee find the ‘keys’ to the solution. Through a systematic approach using the various SF tools, the coachee begins to identify or describe how or when even part of the solution has occurred.
Scaling can be used to help the coachee quantify how close we are to the ‘future perfect’ or the ‘miracle'. For example, on a scale from 0 to 10 where 10 means ‘future perfect’ and 0 means ‘we are nowhere’, the coachee is asked to rate where we are now. If the coachee responds, ‘we are now only at 2’, the coach turns this to a positive and by asking ‘what has already happened that has made it a ‘2’ and not a ‘1’ or ‘0’? The focus on the discussion is then on what needs to be done to ‘go up the scale’, even if only in marginal increments.
Giving compliments and affirming provide the coachee with positive reinforcement to accelerate reaching the solution. Complimenting or providing positive affirmation is a change in mindset for many people at work who are used to receiving only critical or negative feedback. According to de Shazer, the purpose of the compliment is to produce a ‘yes set’ that helps the coachee into a frame of mind to accept something new.
This approach also enhances the quality of the rapport and interaction between the coach and coachee. Put simply, ‘the action is in the interaction’.
As mentioned under ‘scaling’, it is acceptable to progress even in marginal increments, as small steps will eventually lead to significant differences. A small positive change now can create a ‘snowball effect’ in which one breakthrough leads to another.
An important starting point in an SF coaching intervention (or any other coaching activity) is to establish trust and understanding between the coach and coachee. Sometimes referred to as ‘socialising’, a positive working relationship not only allows any mistakes to be forgiven but also accelerates progress towards the ‘future perfect’.
With solutions focused coaching, it is essential to keep the intervention ‘on track’ by focusing on solvable issues only. This is achieved when the coachee can define a solution. Without being able to do so, the problem remains ‘unsolvable’. The problem is considered unsolvable if it is expressed:
a vague or unclear manner
– in terms of what the coachee does not want to see happen or
– in a way where you cannot tell whether or not it has been solved
The problem is also considered ‘ unsolvable’ if the coachee does not want to do anything differently but is only seeking an action or change from someone else.
Solutions focused coaching discourages ‘problem talk’ and replaces it with ‘solution talk’ or ‘problem-free talk’.
People are more naturally oriented towards ‘problem talk’ because they have a greater comfort level when dealing with the past where they can analyse a problem and examine its causes and effects.
‘Solution talk’ is more about exploring issues that are focused on the desired outcome. This does involve a change in the frame of reference and the coachee is encouraged to talk, in specific concrete terms, about the preferred ‘future perfect’. When the coachee starts talking about the solution and relates issues such as intentions and resources, this is positively encouraged, even if it is just a small step forward.
There are a wide range of resources which coachees have at their disposal to help them achieve the solution, many of which may even be long forgotten by the coachee. There are both concrete and intangible resources. Examples of each include:
– communication skills, conflict or crisis management, business
insights, time and finances
Intangible – effort, the will to succeed, company loyalty and colleagueship.
Less obvious but no less valuable resources can be experience gained from having to downsize a business, addressing staff morale issues or losing a major client.
Even talents such as home renovating, coaching a children’s soccer team or caring for an elderly relative are resource talents which can be harnessed to help reach a solution.
Towards the end of an SF coaching session, it is important to summarise and agree the next steps. These are more likely to be small, incremental steps in the right direction rather than aimed at achieving the desired outcome immediately. Often, the steps are agreed on an experimental basis and, if they are more effective than anticipated, they become a bonus. Smaller steps help develop a momentum which, through tools such as keys, compliments and scaling, should help accelerate reaching ‘future perfect’.
As is good general coaching practice, an integral component of SF coaching is the feedback loop to evaluate the effectiveness of the coaching intervention. A discussion takes place on how successfully the solution has been implemented and, as a result, whether the desired outcome been achieved. Evaluation helps the coachee move forward by reinforcing positive actions and behaviours and can be of value when future problem solving opportunities arise.
The three main tenets of solutions focused coaching are:
Roland Nagel is Director of Nagel Consulting Pty Limited in Australia, who specialises in developing high potential leaders through solutions-focused and transformational coaching.
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