14 April 2011 Paolo Terni
Q: Can you briefly tell us how you got interested in the solution-focused approach?
A: Before I heard about the solution-focused approach I was working as an associate director at a very large international consultancy firm. I felt a certain dissatisfaction with my work which I did not fully understand. Somehow, I decided to reflect carefully and came up with the question: when did I really feel gratified with my work? When thought about this deeply I discovered to my great surprise that the four or five situations of gratification which I had identified were rather strange cases. They were situations in which I had worked with clients and in which I had worked quite differently from what was normal for the firm and for myself. Yet, the clients had been very satisfied.
All of these cases had a few things in common. First, I had asked many questions; in particular variations on the questions: “What do you want to achieve?” and “Why do you want to achieve that?” Second, instead of providing standardized prescriptions for solutions I thought along with clients and really tried to understand them. And I improvised. I was very confused when I found this out. A few days later I was talking about this with a colleague manager and shared my discovery: “I have found I am most successful in my work for clients when I am asking questions.” He replied: “I understand. But I don’t think clients will pay money for questions. We’re in the business of providing answers.”
That was when I realized it might be better to leave the company and start my own business. When I realized this, however, I had no idea at all how I would do it. Then, one of the people who worked in my team, and whom I still work with intensively, Gwenda Schlundt Bodien, told me she wanted to follow a training program in solution-focused training. She briefly explained what it was about and I remember being skeptical thinking to myself it sounded very simple and not very new. A few months later I was walking in a book store and I saw this book: Interviewing for solutions. I picked it up and realized it was about the approach Gwenda had told me about. The book looked rather nice and I bought it. I sat down somewhere with a cup of coffee and started reading. Perhaps an hour later the potential of the solution-focused approach hit me with great force. I suddenly saw the connection with the success cases I had identified when I was reflecting on my work. I felt inspired. I felt this approach would be very important for me in the years to come.
Q: How would you say working solution-focused has made you a better coach and consultant?
A: There are many aspects to this. How can I explain? The main thing, I guess, is the approach has helped me to help clients quicker and more effectively. Also, conversations with clients have become more pleasant, both for them and for me. I approach situations much more openly which helps me to connect much better to what clients are actually saying and asking. They feel taken seriously. In addition to this, through the questions I ask and the conversation that emerges, they become more aware of what they want and feel that they find ways of getting there themselves. Because they discover that they are already doing some things that work, they become more hopeful and confident. And because they identify, or define, steps forward themselves, they are much more likely to start moving in a positive direction. Their awareness of their freedom of choice and of their competence is also supported. All these things make it much more likely that any positive change they are able to achieve is sustainable. In general, there is very little chance of them becoming dependent on me as a coach.
Read the full interview here