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Solution Focused Coaching – are you harnessing its power?

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Written by Joanne Miles, Managing Consultant, Leadership and Management Unit, LSN

Solution Focused Coaching approaches have made a positive impact on my coaching skills and led me to a shift in mindset about the role of a coach and that’s what I’d like to reflect on here.

I’ve been a teacher, trainer and professional development coach for twenty years. In those roles I’ve coached many people to improve performance and develop skills. On reflection I would say that my early attempts at coaching, although well-intentioned, focused a great deal on dissecting the problem and offering advice. People were often grateful but in many cases took little action as a result of the coaching. It was a bit like making a big effort to give a friend advice, only to find they completely ignored you…
 
At that time I felt that my role was acting as the problem solver and resource bank for advice and ideas. I realise that this was because the role evolved out of other mentoring type activities that I took on, where my experience was something others wanted to tap into and my assumption at that time that giving advice equalled coaching. And often the responsibility weighed heavy when I felt the pressure to solve others’ problems.
 
Some years ago I had some training on Solution Focused Coaching (SFC) approaches, did some reading and started experimenting. As the training covered principles as well as coaching activities, I gained a new perspective on what coaching could be as well as new tools to do it.
 
The biggest change for me was the way SFC focused very little on the issue or problem but spent a lot of time and attention on clarifying and planning how to achieve the solution. For myself I found this approach liberated a wealth of thoughts and ideas, producing creative new approaches to issues I’d previously felt unable to tackle. And the action planning stages were so specific and realistic that action plans became actual plans. The approach built my confidence in finding solutions to issues or improving my performance, as it helped me identify transferrable skills I could use to do this. With coachees I soon found that it often had a similar effect, generating dynamic, constructive conversations about change and small manageable steps to achieve it. .
 
I’m not saying that SFC is the only way to coach people or that I only ever use this approach. What I notice is that this approach often helps coachees become very active and engaged in solving issues and making the changes they want to make. So I think that SFC approaches are a powerful tool to have in your toolkit of coaching methods.
 
My view of my role as coach has shifted. I now think of myself as a kind of thinking partner for the coachee, asking questions to stimulate reflections and options for action. The conversation is about them finding the best answer for themselves, not me imposing my answer on them through advice. It’s much more about the process and outcome for them than about the content I contribute. I feel pleased when a coaching session provokes this kind of feedback from the coachee:
 
“ It’s quite weird, I come to see you with a problem and you don’t say much, but I talk a lot and by the end I’ve worked out what to do and I feel better and ready for the next steps. How are you doing that??”
(coachee at Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College talking to their coach)
 
This shows me that the active listening and thoughtful questioning on which SFC is based have created a constructive flow of conversation that has moved the person forward.
 
And there are other benefits too. I feel lighter as a coach, knowing that I don’t need to be the font of all knowledge but simply focus on the facilitation of reflection and planning. I talk less and ask more. I get more of an understanding of the coachee than I ever had when I was busy pronouncing on the best way to solve the problem, my way. It’s endlessly fascinating to see how the solution they find is often nothing like the one that came to mind for me.
 
These SFC skills have turned out to have multiple applications – in teaching, in training, in team meetings, in 1:1 reviews and even in conversations with family and friends. I’ve found SFC approaches have really enriched my coaching practice and I recommend them to other coaches as a worthwhile area to explore.
 
 
For more information on Solution Focused Coaching or to discuss training or coaching support for your organisation, please contact me directly on:
 
t: 020 7492 5391
m: 07920 291 383
e: [email protected]
 
I’d be very interested to hear from other coaches about their experiences of approaches that influenced their practice, if you would like to share your experiences please contact me on the above contact details.

 
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2 Responses

  1. Solution Focussed Coaching

    Joanne, thanks for your very interesting article. I use an eclectic mix of approaches and techniques in my coaching, trying to tailor my approach to the needs and situation of my coachee. Solution focussed coaching however, seems to work particularly well in the corporate environment in which I operate as most coachees are under pressure to identify solutions, deliver targets and objectives. Having a coaching approach which leads to a practical outcome with an action plan they’ve developed during the session seems to make all the difference. These folk are all very busy and unfortunately often stressed. If they’re to spend time in a coaching session they want to feel that it’s been time well spent and having a clear way forward at the end seems to provide the return on their investment of time that keeps them coming back for more.    

    Kay Howells. Executive Coach.

  2. Re: Solution Focused Coaching

    Hi Kay

    Your comments really strike a chord for me and it was interesting to hear that you’ve found Solution Focused Coaching (SFC) so useful in a different context from mine – most of my career has been in education, FE in fact, where SFC is just coming into play as people are looking for more sustainable models of professional development and quality improvement. Interestingly, SFC has come into FE as both a performance management tool and also a way of helping people be more creative and develop their practice in the classroom, with different groups of people providing coaching in each case. I wonder if other coaches from different sectors would also have a comment on where Solution Focused approaches are fitting in well?

     

    Joanne

     

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