Monday 6th February 2012
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A senior coach discovers Solution Focus


About a year ago, I had a very interesting conversation with an Occupational Psychologist friend. He was enthusiastically telling me about a powerful new coaching
technique he had come across. He explained it to me with the phrase,
“I’ve met these people who have spent years trying to work out the one, simple, most powerful question you can ask someone [as a coach]”. Such apparent mastery, and presumably extreme persistence, excited me.
Curious to know more, I signed up for a series of workshops and hope to complete my Certification in BRIEF Coaching by the end of this year. The techniques are extraordinarily powerful, yet very straightforward to apply – once you have mastered the language and grasped the underlying philosophy. Learning about Solution Focus (SF) is easily the single biggest step forward in my ability to coach since going through Lane4’s Coaching Accreditation Programme. SF is, in essence, very simple: define what it is you want (future focus) and describe the ways you have already been working successfully towards this (past focus). The application of SF that I have been learning comes from an area known as ‘Brief Therapy’ which was originally developed to a high level by Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg of the Family Therapy Centre in Milwaukee, USA, and later in London. Over 25 years, the efficacy of this approach has been well established and is supported by a solid and ever increasing body of research.
I find SF fascinating because of the way it flies in the face of typical Western thinking. Instead of assuming that we must have a detailed analysis of problems and root causes, SF holds that, ‘working on the surface, in the client’s account’, can create real and lasting change, i.e. working with observable behaviour. SF is also ‘non-normative’, in that there are no assumptions about what is normal or best practice; whatever works best for the client, for their team and for their organisation in achieving their common purpose, is ‘right’. What matters is to notice what works best, in some considerable detail, and do more of it! Finally, there is no need for action plans. A core mantra of SF is, ‘signs, not steps’, in other words we encourage clients to look out for small signs of progress towards their preferred future, rather than planning the steps that they will need to take in order to get there.
A sign that a recent coachee described in developing her leadership capability was, “other people noticing that I was being calmer and more considered”. This led to a series of detailed questions about who would notice and what exactly they would notice, how they would respond and what difference this would make to the coachee. This proved a much more interesting and creative exploration than the more traditional route of getting her to come up with a list of actions. The typical ‘pinning down’ approach implies that the person does not want to change, whereas the SF approach assumes the opposite.
Try this for yourself and examine which feels more appealing and more likely to get results.
As you can probably tell, I would highly recommend Solution Focus, and in particular the
‘BRIEF’ application, as a coaching approach. To conclude: take a deep breath, clear your mind, relax and ask yourself one, simple, powerful coaching question, “What are my best hopes – for today, for my future career, for my life?”.
Shona Keogh, at the time of writing, was a Principal Consultant at Lane4 ( and this article was published in their in-house journal The Wave. She is now a freelance coach
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