You are wrong! Always!

  • “Correct me if I am wrong…”
  • “Am I right?”
  • “Please push back if I am wrong!”
  • “Does that sound about right?”

These are all things we say before or after we summarize what another person has said. But why do we do that? Why repeat something that was said right before? Communal memory loss?

I see you raise an eyebrow (something that I have always been wanting to be able to do) and I guess you are starting on a train of thought in the direction of: “But I need to secure understanding! There needs to be a feedback loop! Sender and receiver model!”

And you are right (sic!). The idea that we need to play back what we just heard in order to secure understanding can be derived from the sender / receiver model of communication. A sender has a message, they encode the message into a signal (language, body-language etc.). The receiver gets the message, decodes it and then gets it. However, meaning is presumed to get lost in the encoding and decoding or in the signal. Therefore, to check whether the receiver has decoded what the sender wanted to say, the receiver has to use a feedback channel and send the message back.

Solution Focused Coaching is based on postmodern or poststructuralist philosophies of communication and has a slightly different view: We think that “understanding” is neither possible nor desired. We are quite happy knowing that “there is no understanding, only more or less useful misunderstanding” – something I often heard Steve de Shazer say.

Successful communication is not about “representing what the other person said correctly” but about co-constructing a conversation, maybe a joint view of the world and the possibilities therein.

So when Solution Focused Coaches repeat words that the client said, it is not to secure understanding but to shed light on potentially useful elements: what seems important to the client, what the client wants, what the client already knows. During my studies of narrative therapy at the Dulwich Center in Adelaide, I heard the sentence: “rescuing the spoken from the speaking”.

Here is an example from a real transcript:

Kirsten (Client 00:50): And I think what I want to continue working on is, how to stay healthy, halfway happy, like not … I know that complete bliss isn’t in the picture when you’re this overworked. But just the thing is, staying sane in a situation where I know there is no way I can do everything I need to be doing. And I could easily work 16 hours a day but choose not to. But I am doing 10, 11-hour days, just to get the basics and to get done what really needs to get done.

Roy (Coach 01:38): Okay. So you’re getting done what needs to get done, 10 or 11-hour days. Sounds like you’re committed to doing that, and you want to find ways to stay healthy and sane, and at least halfway happy.

Roy picks out all the things that Kirsten knows and what she wants and what is important to her. This helps clarify what the conversation is about. Roy also uses Kirsten’s exact words.

Reflecting back thereby becomes an invitation to co-construct what is wanted – a very different endeavor to trying to “get it right”. Instead of asking “am I right”, I think we might consider asking:

  • “Am I picking up the things that you would like to focus on?”
  • “Have I got the elements that you would like to highlight?”
  • “Did I miss anything important here?”
  • “This is what I am picking out from what I heard – what are the most important bits for you?”

If you would like to analyze different sessions with that lens you will find 3 playlists of demo coachings on our YouTube channel:

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