SF therapy and coaching as I understand it is much closer to the business culture than to the lovebombing, positive thinking culture. When SF coaches give “compliments” at the end of a session, they are not complimenting anything that comes to mind. They don’t generally appreciate clients in an overdone way – they comment on what they think will increase their clients confidence that they will reach their goals. It is not even about what the coach believes: it is about stating what the client said about him- or herself in his or her own words. – Kirsten Dierolf

A while ago, a client, in response to my question: “what is better, now?“, looked at me knowingly and said: “oh, the glass half full as opposed to the glass half empy, uh?

I knew right there and then that somewhere along the line I made a mistake.

Solution-Focused coaching is not about “being positive”.
Solution-Focused is not about denying the reality of tough situations.

Solution-Focused coaching is about noticing what works – in a fact-finding manner.
It is about helping clients observe what they are doing: what does not work (and the client is very aware of that), and what does work (here the client might need a little help: due to the Negativity Bias we are built to pay more attention to the negative – but the point is that we, as SF practitioners, do not add anything!)

It is about exploring the resources clients bring to the coaching session – without any judgement, positive or negative. We are just “resource detectives” – and because we are professional “resource detectives”, we are not planting any evidence!

Solution-Focused coaching is not about wishful thinking – hoping a problem will just go away by not focusing on it (being “solution-focused” does not mean being “problem-phobic“!).
Solution-Focused coaching is not about putting a positive spin on problems: actually, it is about putting no spin at all.

Solution-Focused coaching is about widening clients’ perspectives, so they can escape the narrow view that dealing with a problem usually entails (see Carey Glass). It is a method of helping people get unstuck, as Kirsten Dirolf writes. We can see it as a way to correct the sample bias by inviting clients to include in their reasoning more “data points” (the desired future, useful exceptions, third-party points of view…). But again, we are not interpreting data points and finding trends; and we are definitely not making up data points!

Clients often get in a positive emotional state during a SF coaching conversation – as a consequence of their own discoveries, hopefully prompted by our questions. Not because we tell them so. But because they become more realistic, because they remember what works (and as Wittgenstein said: The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is unable to notice somethiing – because it is always before one’s eyes). Philosophical Investigations, #129.)

It is an indirect effect of our work (see Coert Visser on the effectiveness of creating positive expectations indirectly, i.e. priming clients to notice what is working even after the session is done). It is a consequence of a sounder appraisal of the situation on the part of the client, not a distortion due to wearing rosy glasses handed out by the practitioner.

7 thoughts on “Distinction: Solution-Focused Coaching vs. “being positive”

  1. Wow Paolo — this is really really good stuff! I will include your post in my mailing to my training participants. With all the links and the background: Wittgenstein, Positivity, Heuristics, Behavioral Economics … THANKS.

    And (almost sorry to say now): I couldn’t agree more.
    Kind regards,

  2. Hm, I’d like to jump into to the discussion here. I won’t really, since I need to write to much to make sense. But I can’t resist jumping in anyway, since I like the thinking of you guys.

    So let a confused head ask this: The inside/outside choice in which scientific view point that fits SF can equally well be constrasted with a “Inbetween” view OR a “all-over” view.

    But, is there a usefull difference between “Inbetween” and “all-over” perspectives. It seems to me that Paolo, myself, and perhaps Alva Noë (to take an academia name), is more “All Over”, and Kirsten, Mark, and perhaps Rom Harré, is more “inbetween”.

    So, is Solution focus:
    NEITHER inside/NOR outside (therfor inbetween)
    BOTH inside/AND outside/AND relationship inside/outside (therefor allover)?

    As you might think, Im a bit lost inbetween thoughts going all-over the place. I never was a good philosopher:)

    Be well, and have a good time this weekend

  3. Paolo, there is no puzzle.The puzzle is an illusion coming from ignoring context dependence. I had a philosophy session with my son Adrian to examine this, and it became clear that if you draw a blue circle on a paper and paint the outside jellow: You can see and inside and outside and a border. If you remove the outside yellow you can see a border on a circle of blue. If you remove the inner circle, you can still see a border to a yellow surface. If you remove the inside blue and the outside yellow of the circle there is nothing there. No border. So inner explanations, outer explanations and inbetween explanations are interdependent. The are only there relative the others. This is a bit metaphoric. But looking at the various sciences of human life as interdependent makes a lot of sense. No science is complete and independent since it is interdependent. (this does not have anything to do with relativism. All relative views are NOT equaly true, since there is only one true possible relative view that we are approximating in science)


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