Problem-Solving vs Solution-Finding Coaching Conversations

by Aug 28, 2022

Problem solving is about fixing something that is broken. It works very well when we are trying to fix a mechanical problem. It is usually reactive, we only know that there is a problem when something doesn’t work anymore.

Solution-finding conversations are about exploring, discovering and building long lasting solutions. It works very well when we work within the complexities of human behaviour, social interaction and human “ways of working”, which is more fluid and unpredictable. Through talking and listening in the moment-to-moment flow of the coaching conversation attainable solutions begin to emerge for the client. It is a forward-looking approach that ‘sees’ beyond the problem, discovering what might be a realistically more desirable outcome and then building on what may be already happening and what might be possible until we discover how they may move forward, step by step, taking them towards their desired picture.

“Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

Stephen R. Covey

What if we listened with curosity to understand, then with compassion and grace explored what the other person wanted from the conversation or what they wanted from us before jumping in to “fix” them and their problem? How different would our conversations be?

Solution-Focused Coaching

This is the reason I love the solution-focused approach of coaching which follows these basic tenets.

  1. If it is not broken (i.e. if it works), don’t fix it.
  2. If something worked once, do more of it.
  3. If it does not work, do something different.
  4. Change is constant and inevitable.
  5. The future is negotiated and created.
  6. Small solutions (steps) can lead to big changes.
  7. Problems and solutions may not always be directly related.
  8. No problem happens all the time; there are always exceptions that can be utilized.
  9. Ask questions rather than telling clients what to do.
  10. Gently nudge to do more of what is working.
  11. The language for solution development is different from the language of problem-solving

Reference: Insoo Kim Berg & Peter Szabo, Brief coaching for lasting solutions (2005)(addition from De Shazar & Dolan, More than Miracles 2007)