Solution Focused Coaching approaches have had a positive impact on my skills and led to a shift in mindset about the role of a coach and that’s what I’d like to talk about 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, focused a great deal on dissecting the problem and offering suggestions. People were often grateful but in many cases took little action afterwards. 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, where my experience was something others wanted to tap into plus my assumption 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. The biggest change for me was the way SFC focused very little on the problem but put a lot of attention on clarifying and planning how to achieve the solution. For myself I found this approach liberated a wealth of ideas, producing creative new approaches to issues I’d 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. 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 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. 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.
I’d be very interested to hear from other coaches or coachees about their experiences of coaching. If you would like to share your experiences, please get in touch: