SOLWorld

Sharing and building Solution Focused practice in organisations

Solution-focused vs. problem-focused coaching questions


This being the Holiday Season, I would like to share with you a great gift that Anthony M. Grant and Sean A. O'Connor gave to the Solution-Focused Coaching community this year: a pilot study of "the differential effects of problem-focus and solution-focused coaching questions".

From the abstract:

Findings – Both the problem-focused and the solution-focused conditions are effective at enhancing goal approach. However, the solution-focused group experience significantly greater increases in goal approach compared with the problem-focused group. Problem-focused questions reduce negative affect and increase self-efficacy but do not increase understanding of the nature of the problem or enhance positive affect. The solution-focused approach increases positive affect, decreases negative affect, increases self-efficacy as well as increasing participants’ insight and understanding of the nature of the problem.

And from the Summary:

Problem-focused questions reduced negative affect and increased self-efficacy. However, the solution-focused questions were overall more effective, providing the same benefits as the problem-focused condition while also increasing positive affect and participants’ understanding of the nature of the problemOverall it seems that while both problem-focused and solution-focused questions are effective, generally, solution-focused coaching questions are more effective than problem-focused questions[my emphasis]

Thank you Anthony and Shean!!

The differential effects of solution-focused and problem-focused co... by Anthony M. Grant and Sean A. O’Connor, in: "Industrial and Commercial Training", vol. 42, No.2, 2010, pp.102-111.

*** originally posted at www.briefcoachingsolutions.com***

Views: 1883

Add a Comment

You need to be a member of SOLWorld to add comments!

Join SOLWorld

Comment by Anthony M Grant on January 4, 2011 at 14:13

Hi Hans-Peter and Paolo,

Good to hear from you both. Thanks for your interest in myine and Sean's work. My brief response is below:

 

Purpose

The purpose of this paper was to explore the differential effects of problem-focused and solution-focused coaching questions becasue not much work has been done in the area so we conducted a literature overview and ran an exploratory pilot study. Our aims were to examine the impact of problem-focused and solution-focused coaching questions and to determine which is more effective.  To this end we conducted a pilot study that was designed to emulate a problem-focused and a solution-focused interaction within a coaching session. That is, we did not conduct a whole coaching session; rather, we asked a series of problem-focused and solution-focused coaching questions We were not making any suggestions about the efficacy of either PF or SF coaching questions beyond the context in which the study was conducted. The findings may well generalise, but we cannot say if they will or not at this stage. The paper is what it is!

 

Summary

Although both problem-focused and the solution-focused conditions were effective at enhancing goal approach, the solution-focused group had significantly greater increases in goal approach compared to the problem-focused group. Problem-focused questions reduced negative affect and increased self-efficacy. However, the solution-focused questions were overall more effective, providing the same benefits as the problem-focused condition while also increasing positive affect and participants’ understanding of the nature of the problem. Overall it seems that while both problem-focused and solution-focused questions are effective, generally, solution-focused coaching questions are more effective than problem-focused questions. Thus, we suggest that coaches aim for a solution-focused theme in their coaching work if they wish to conduct effective goal-focused coaching sessions that build self-efficacy, reduce negative affect, increase positive affect and support the process of goal attainment.

 

Implications for practice

This paper has some useful implications for practitioners. We suggest that coaches aim for a solution-focused theme in their work with clients. This is not to say that we should ignore the existence of problems: solution-focused does not mean problem-phobic! In reality, problem-focused and solution-focused approaches overlap, coaching conversations are not solely solution-focused or solely problem-focused. Coaches move between these approaches to best meet the needs of the coachee. Many clients want to talk about their problems. Having the time and space to talk about problems can be cathartic, and stopping them from doing so can alienate them. Indeed, just thinking about problems seems to help coachees move towards their goal. However, and this is an important point for coaches, consultants and trainers to bear in mind, although a problem-focused approach may reduce negative feelings, it may not increase positive feelings: we of course assume that it is important that clients feel energised by their coaching sessions.

 

Limitations

In a pilot study such as this there are inevitable limitations and these should be taken into account in interpreting the findings. Firstly, the sample size is somewhat small. While sample sizes of thirty-nine and thirty-five are sufficient to detect medium to large effect sizes in within-subject designs they may be on the small size in terms of producing reliable correlational statistics (Cohen, 1992). We recommend that further research use larger sample sizes. Secondly, the participants in the study took part as part of their course requirements. It would be useful to replicate this study using actual coachees, rather than mature age students. Thirdly, the measures are purely self-report. Future research could use objective behavioural indictors of goal progression in addition to the self-report measures used in the present study.

 

Footnote:

 

I (Tony Grant) have now competed a much larger scale randomised controlled study with about 400 people and will be publishing the results later this year. This new study is a more robust study and also explores how goal setting might overcome the negative effects of being problem focused.

 

These kinds of studies into solution-focused thinking and coaching techniques are really not hard to do, and it would be great to see other work along these lines. It is not always easy to run studies looking at whole SF coaching sessions or SF coaching programs, but small parts of the SF methodology can be quite easily investigated.

 

Warm regards to all on the list - I see a few familiar names and faces!

Anthony Grant


Anthony M Grant BA(Hons), MA, PhD C.Psychol. MAPS

******************************************************************************

Director: Coaching Psychology Unit,

School of Psychology,

University of Sydney,

NSW 2006,

Australia.

www.psych.usyd.edu.au/coach

anthony.grant@sydney.edu.au

Mobile: 0413 74 74 93

*****************************************************************************************

Comment by Hans-Peter Korn on January 4, 2011 at 12:21
good idea ... I did it just now...
Comment by Paolo Terni on January 4, 2011 at 1:30

Dear Peter,

yes, maybe...

you should forward it to the authors to let them know how they should summarize their own research...

Comment by Hans-Peter Korn on January 3, 2011 at 20:52

Dear Paolo,

maybe this might be a summary with reduced chances to be misunderstood:

"Overall it seems that while both problem-focused and solution-focused questions are effective, generally, solution-focused coaching questions are more effective than problem-focused questions particulary for concerns which are typically matter of personal coachings"

Cheers,

Hans-Peter

 

 

 

Comment by Paolo Terni on January 3, 2011 at 0:18

Dear Peter,

neither I nor the authors of the paper said "solution-focused coaching questions are more effective than problem-focused questions" without qualifying such statement.

I titled the blog post " Sf vs. Problem-focused coaching questions" and the conclusions of the authors, again, reads as >> problem-focused questions reduced negative affect and increased self-efficacy. However, the solution-focused questions were overall more effective, providing the same benefits as the problem-focused condition while also increasing positive affect and participants’ understanding of the nature of the problemOverall it seems that while both problem-focused and solution-focused questions are effective, generally, solution-focused coaching questions are more effective than problem-focused questions./span>

And that, again, is a summary of a paper where you can find all the details and the context.

 

Having said that, I believe that the misunderstanding "true for every context" is one lurking in our language and the reason d'etre of Wittgenstein... 

As an example> "smoking is bad for you" is a generally accepted statement but it does not hold true for every context, e.g. it is good for reducing stress level, keeping your weight in check and so on... 

so I understand your point, I do not see the relevance here.

 

Cheers,

Paolo

Comment by Hans-Peter Korn on January 1, 2011 at 17:55

Dear Paolo, your clarification of the context ("Please take five minutes ... or a situation that you don’t feel like you have a good deal of insight into.") is very important. Otherwise messages like "solution-focused coaching questions are more effective than problem-focused questions" could be misunderstood as "true for every context". 

Such misunderstandings then might be misleading for a lot of situations in OD and management also based on dilemmas - but  dilemmas which can be solved by detailed root-cause-analyses, because they are based on "complicated" (= analysable and predictable) systems, not on "complex" ones.

 

Of course - I am aware, that labelling a system as "complex" or "complicated" is a construction out of my understanding of a system. So, acting in a SF-way because I have the impression that a system is complex might seduce me not to apply problem focused question and root-cause analyses in cases, whre they might be more appropriate, because there ARE chances to "understand" the "mechanics" of a system. 

 

Cheers

Hans-Peter   

Comment by Paolo Terni on January 1, 2011 at 17:23

Dear Hans-Peter,

I agree with you, it all depends on context.

Let me provide you with some context re the study:

- the sentences you took from the abstract refer specifically to coaching questions

- the invitation re which issue to talk about:

Please take five minutes to write about a problem that you have that you would like to solve. It should be one that is frustrating for you and one that you have not, as yet, been able to solve. This problem should be real and personal, but something you feel comfortable sharing about. It might be a dilemma, that is a situation in which you feel caught between two or more possible courses of action, or a situation that you don’t feel like you have a good deal of insight into.

- the comparison was between a CBT framework and a SF framework.

 

Happy New Year!!

Paolo

 

 

Comment by Hans-Peter Korn on January 1, 2011 at 14:46

Well, findings like:

Problem-focused questions reduce negative affect and increase self-efficacy but do not increase understanding of the nature of the problem or enhance positive affect.

and
solution-focused questions were overall more effective

are "true" IMHO in a specific context only. So, e.g., if the motor of your car is not running a SF-question like: "what does it make that the motor was running one hour ago?" will not be very useful... In  the case of a mechanical system which is driven by clear cause-effect relationships problem-focused questions and "root-cause-analyses" are very appropriate - and not doing them in such kind of system will be very unprofessional. 

On the other hand: In complex systems like e.g. social systems which are not working like a complicated engine based on cause-effect relationships and in which the relationship between cause and effect can only be perceived in retrospect, but not in advance and the approach is to Probe - Sense - Respond and we can sense emergent practice (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cynefin) SF-questions are more appropriate then problem focused questions. 

 

For me, as I am working in the moment as a "Scrum Master" in quite "tricky" IT-projects it is very important to be aware of this differences depending on the context. Otherwise I would ask SF-question to solve bugs in the IT-system or apply root-cause-analyses to enhance the teamwork...

 

 

Badge

Loading…

Notes

Jumpstart into Solution Focus

You want to learn more about "Solution Focus"?

You prefer a "step by step" introduction instead to start with reading some
voluminous books?

You would appreciate to have a complete "helicopter view" on SF after the first step…

Continue

Created by Hans-Peter Korn Dec 25, 2009 at 10:25am. Last updated by Mark McKergow Nov 3, 2014.

Making the most of SOLWorld.ning.com

If you’ve just arrived at SOLWorld.org (the SOLWorld ning group), you may be looking at all the features and wondering where to start.  This note might be helpful…

 …

Continue

Created by Mark McKergow Jun 3, 2008 at 4:55pm. Last updated by Jesper H Christiansen Aug 22, 2017.

Open Space at SOLworld conferences

SOLworld Open Space instructions as it was used at the 2011 conference, by Mark McKergow

Continue

Created by Katalin Hankovszky Dec 30, 2015 at 10:18pm. Last updated by Katalin Hankovszky Dec 30, 2015.

SOLWorld Resources

Welcome to the SOLWorld Resources section.  This part of the site features information about the SOLWorld network, our past events and materials from our previous website.  It will take some time to update all the information, so thanks for your patience. 

Information in this part of the site is 'read-only'.  If you want to start discussions, please go to the Forum or Groups. …

Continue

Created by Mark McKergow May 12, 2008 at 4:08pm. Last updated by Hans-Peter Korn Dec 25, 2009.

© 2018   Created by Mark McKergow.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service