Solutions Focus Approach

by Paul Z Jackson

Common questions

  1. What is the Solutions Focus approach?
  2. Where does the solution-focused approach come from?
  3. What are the principles of a solutions-focused approach to change?
  4. What’s the difference between problem talk and solutions talk?
  5. How do I start taking a solution-focused approach and ensure I establish a good platform?
  6. How do we get a description of what success will be like – establishing a future perfect?
  7. How do we measure progress and harness the power of scaling?
  8. How do we know ‘what works’ and how do we collect valuable counters?
  9. How do we boost people’s awareness of their positive and useful resources by offering compliments and affirms?
  10. What are the best actions to take if we want to make progress?

 

1. What is the Solutions Focus approach?

Solutions Focus (SF) is an attractive way of making progress – especially in challenging situations. It’s applied worldwide in coaching, strategy, change management, peace building and many other fields.

The basic idea of SF is to find what works and do more of it.

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2. Where does the solution-focused approach come from?

Solutions Focus has its roots in the therapeutic approach devised by husband-and-wife team, Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (USA).

Working with therapy patients from the late 1970s to early in the 21st century, their key insight was that the route to progress was talking about what was wanted, resources and action steps, rather than talking about problems.

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3. What are the principles of a solutions-focused approach to change?

These six principles, forming the acronym SIMPLE, provide you with a comprehensive checklist to ensure that your work in any change setting will be as constructive as possible.

Solutions – not problems

Inbetween – not individual

Make use of what’s there – not what isn’t

Possibilities – from the past, present and future

Language – clear not complicated

Every case is different

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4. What’s the difference between problem talk and solutions talk?

If you want to have consistently constructive conversations, perhaps the most important distinction to grasp is the distinction between problem talk and solutions talk.

Problem talk is – as the name implies – talk about problems: it includes descriptions of what the problems are, analysis of where they came from, elaboration of the effects they are having, how people feel about them, and speculation about what they are leading to. It is any talk that puts the focus on the problem.

Solutions talk is talk about what is wanted: it includes descriptions of how matters will be when they are the way people want them to be; it also includes talk of resources, strengths and skills, of successful examples, of actions that will help us to get to desired states of affairs.

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5. How do I start taking a solution-focused approach and ensure I establish a good platform?

The platform is the starting point for a constructive project, meeting or conversation, where we shift from talking about the problem (or what is not wanted) to identifying what people do want (the solution), gaining agreement to work on the topic and explore the benefits of doing so.

Platform building includes

  • Establishing a starting point
  • Checking that the project is one worth embarking upon
  • Ensuring that the people involved are prepared to do something.

You will save a great deal of time by building a platform at the beginning of a project, conversation or meeting.

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6. How do we get a description of what success will be like – establishing a future perfect?

The future perfect is a rich and detailed description of what is wanted or of life without the problem. By establishing a future perfect, we

  • Provide direction for our project
  • Motivate and influence people – if the future is compelling then they are more likely to be motivated to take action towards it
  • Get a detailed description of what people are looking for, therefore making it easier to identify it when it happens – perhaps even enabling us to notice parts of the future perfect that are happening already.

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7. How do we measure progress and harness the power of scaling?

We can use scaling to measure where we are now, to set goals and to measure progress. When scaling, we can engage individuals in reflection on their own strengths and coping strategies; provide a means of identifying personal goals; indicate steps towards achieving those goals.

Benefits of scaling include

  • Helping individuals and teams focus on how they would like things to be
  • Elaborating strengths – when you ask why people have placed themselves at a certain point
  • Measuring change in ways that encourage further change
  • Confirming progress
  • Deciding priorities and next steps.

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8. How do we know ‘what works’ and how do we collect valuable counters?

A counter is whatever we can discover that is helping us get towards our desired state of affairs. Whether strengths, skills, resources or previous examples of success, a counter is anything that counts, including

  • When the solution (what’s wanted) happens already
  • When parts of the solution happen already
  • Something resembling what is wanted happens already
  • Resources, skills and qualities that may be useful
  • Grounds for optimism that matters may be about to improve
  • Evidence for being up to a certain point on a scale
  • Others’ knowledge, skills and experience

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9. How do we boost people’s awareness of their positive and useful resources by offering compliments and affirms?

Before moving a change situation on (by, for example, deciding what actions people will take), it is often a good idea to affirm what is going well and to articulate the resources that will help to fuel that action.

Questions to ask include

  • What have we identified that’s going well?
  • What are you/we contributing to making that happen?
  • What attributes, skills and resources have we been demonstrating?
  • What is impressing us?
  • What can we admire?
  • What is it about the people and the situation that gives us hope that there will be progress here?

The answers to these questions will typically result in a list of qualities, resources, skills and attributes.

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10. What are the best actions to take if we want to make progress?

Small actions have several advantages over big actions. They are both easier to propose and easier to take. They require less confidence and less energy. Therefore they are more likely to be taken.

The kinds of actions to take fall into two basic categories:

1. Doing more of what works

  • The most likely to succeed
  • The easiest
  • A random choice of what might work
  • Noticing what works
  • Acting as if the future perfect had arrived

2. Stopping doing what doesn’t work and doing something different instead.

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