People sometimes suspect that Solutions Focus practitioners underestimate the seriousness of their clients’ issues. People have problems, dammit, lots of problems. And these problems profoundly affect them. They are troublesome, nasty, frightening. So don’t ignore our complaints or our pain, as you start questing for solutions, they say.
Yes. It’s all true. A practitioner may well need to hear and acknowledge the severity of the problem as a useful first step. Without that, the client can legitimately feel unheard or ignored. And yet it’s a first step that does not commit us to going into an analysis of the problem, a lengthy description of the problem or a bout of fault-finding.
We suspect (and the research backs it up) that problem talk is largely unhelpful for the resolution of the kinds of complex issues that our clients bring to us. Talking more about the problem can magnify the problem, leaving us feeling helpless or worse. And that leads us to identifying a key coaching skill as one of transforming a problem statement into a solution statement.
It is hard to do this if we get caught up in the problem, because for example we find the problem fascinating. Or because we are so focused on empathy that we forget to move on to hearing what it is that our client wants. Or we want to understand something about the problem to satisfy our own curiosity.
Yet it is not that hard if we are clear that our task is to find out what our client wants and help them get closer to that. Then, confronted with problem talk, we find ourselves saying, ‘That sounds tough… You aren’t happy with that, it seems…. I wonder what you want instead...'