It does so because this is a central question in any solution-focused (SF) conversation. As a question it may seem an obvious one to ask in many contexts – it is difficult, for example, to imagine getting very far as an organisational consultant or as a coach without it.
But in other settings, such as medicine, that’s not the case. There the crucial question is ‘What’s wrong with you?’, in which your answer is expected to lead to a diagnosis and then treatment. You’re probably not even asked if you want diagnosis and treatment – it’s more of a given, an almost unquestioned assumption.
When I was discussing this issue with the London group of solution-focused practitioners, including a few speech therapists, they described themselves dealing with a range of clients; from acute settings, such as immediately after a trauma – for example a stroke that had resulted in language loss – to more chronic clients, such as those with learning disabilities. The more acute, the more they tended to the medical model: they might introduce themselves, telling the patient what they hoped to be doing, describing their role, and inviting comments. The tone would be friendly, professional, perhaps even useful - but not particularly SF because they were not asking people what they wanted.
One stroke patient who was at our meeting said he had never been asked what he wanted by a medical practitioner, and would love to be asked it. He told us he worked in branding – where he routinely asks what his client want and why they want it. It was only when he met an SF speech therapist that he was able to choose the recovery goals that meant the most to him.
In SF the answer to ‘What do you want?’ forms the platform or basis of ‘the solution’, the desired state of affairs. So it must be addressed somehow. And of course there are various ways of asking and various moments at which to ask.
Popular forms of the question include:
• What do you want?
• What would you like to have happen?
• What’s prompted you to make the effort to come?
• At the end of this meeting what would be the best outcome for you?
• What are your best hopes – of what will happen here today/ of the programme?
Less solutions-focused (in this sense) are:
• How can I help?’
• What do you think is going to happen here? (Though that may be a worthwhile prelude).
• What’s wrong?
In my next blog, tips for how and when to ask what’s wanted...