Using “tools” in Solution Focused coaching

I don’t like the word “tools”, as the metaphor implies someone using something (a tool) on something to achieve a determined outcome. For example, you want to hang up a picture on the wall and have no nail (the problem). You need a nail in the wall (the goal), so you grab a nail and a hammer (the tool), you apply the hammer (the tool) which will lead undoubtedly to the nail in the wall (the goal). This is not how Solution Focused Coaching works: we don’t identify the problem, find the “right” tool for it and reach the goal. Human interactions are complex and coaching conversations are a co-creation and partnership between client and coach, not a coach diagnosing and applying a tool ON the client. My preference is to use the metaphor of dance moves and invitations, instead.

With all that said: in training schools, coaching books, at conferences and workshops, coaches speak about “tools”. Examples might be “the wheel of life”, “micro-constellations”, “the drama triangle”; “inner team”, “inner drivers”, “tetralemma”, etc. — so how do you use these and similar structures within a Solution Focused coaching session?

Treat them as invitations

Before you unpack your tool and use it on your unwitting client, explain it to the client, so they can decide whether this might be useful or not. This does take time, but any use of a “tool” that is not an invitation but a prescribed flow of the conversation, for me, is not really coaching.

Know what the intention behind the tool is

The wheel of life, for example is an invitation to get an overview of several important topics and to decide where to focus on in the coming coaching session(s). It invites clients to think about the balance in their lives and what they are happy with — and what they can still improve. Basically, you take the drawing of a wheel and label each spoke with an important area of the client’s life: family, fun, work, and so on. The client is then invited to scale where they are with the outside of the wheel being a “10” signifying the client is very happy with the area and a “0”, near the hub signifying the client is not at all happy with that area.

Keep your Solution Focus

As you are using the tool, keep your Solution Focus on “what is wanted” and “what is already working”. Also keep in mind that “every case is different” and give your client as much room as possible to adapt the tool to their preferred way of working.

For example, if you are working with the wheel of life, let the client choose their important areas in life and don’t use a prefabricated drawing. Start by asking what sense the client is making of the finished drawing ). Don’t jump on the “negative” but invite the client to notice all the things that are going well. Invite the client to imagine what the drawing, their live would look like, when things are just the way they want them. Ask what they and others would be noticing. Maybe then, the client would like to focus on one area or maybe a completely different topic emerges. Stay open for any kind of “coaching agreement” for the session.

Drop the tool if it is not useful

A saying ascribed to Paul Watzlawick and Mark Twain, but actually seems to have originated with Abraham Maslow is “If your only tool is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail”. So maybe your client is not interested in nails and hammers, maybe the client was being a “good client” and said “yes” when you asked them about using the tool. And maybe in the middle of the session, you are noticing that this is not going anywhere. Then DROP THE TOOL. Inquire what the client has already gained from the session, ask if continuing is useful or if the client would rather go elsewhere with the session.

I wish you happy experimentations with solutionizing tools. Let me know if you are interested in more musings about solutionizing other tools — I’d be happy to exchange views and experiment in our weekly free meetups and exchanges:

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