10 Mar Principles vs. Patterns
There are few things you know for sure as a Solution Focused practitioner.
This is actually one of the most charming things about this approach – its grammar has very few principles and the rest is improvisation, playing around with them until the client have reached their goal.
As a new practitioner of SF and a passionate theater maker, whenever I have time to let my mind wonder, I create mental experiments: short imaginary dramas and conflistc in which I try to get pairs of Solution Focused affirmations in trouble, preferably against each other and see whether they can come out of it unscathed. My own version of Godzilla vs. King Kong.
There are two such affirmations that I put to test recently, when thinking about a common objective one might have when searching for a coach: getting rid of a `problematic` behavior that they perceive as a personal pattern, something they do wrong all the time.
- In one corner we have ”The Client knows best” – a humanistic affirmation that leaves the coach on very uncertain ground.
- In the opposite corner we have ”No problem happens all the time” – an optimistic affirmation that could leave coaches of the world out of a job.
So: The client knows best. They might not be aware they know best, but they do, for sure. All you, as a coach, have to do is ask
So then, my inner voice screams: BUT sometimes they are doing really stupid stuff! Sometimes they themselves will call their own actions stupid and still do them over and over. The client themselves will complain about this `damaging patterns`.
For example, the client keeps postponing difficult tasks until everything escalates to dramatic consequences and only then takes action. Surely, if they knew best, they wouldn’t be doing it! The client needs help from a skilled specialist who can tell them what to do.
You, as coach, do not know what purpose this behavior is serving. But the client does. So always ask them. And trust that they will find the benefits themselves. Maybe they feel more motivated by ”last minute” pressure. Maybe the discomfort of doing that particular thing is so burdening that they will only move to do it when the discomfort of not having done it is bigger. Whatever the reason, this behavior is somehow useful to them.
Is it also useful to others? The client will know this best, as well.
What could be the benefits of discussing a `damaging pattern` from a positive point of view instead of just helping them get rid of it?
For once, the client will get a moment’s relief from the guilt of ”doing it all wrong”. Then, while exploring the benefits of the current `pattern`, they might get ideas of how to get those benefits in a different way.
Maybe they want to find other ways to feel motivated.
Maybe they want to stop trading discomforts and approach their work differently.
They will know, all you need to do, since they know best, is to be genuinely curious and keep on asking.
Now comes in the other affirmation: ”No problem happens all the time.”
Until now you have been curious about the benefits of this `pattern` that you were almost tempted to fix by giving advice, recommending time management training and apps and so on. Now it is time to be curious about the `pattern` itself. As you know for sure that no problem happens all the time, it is only logical to ask the client ”What happens the rest of the time, when the `pattern` is not present? Are there any, even isolated and meager moments when things happen even a little bit differently? What does the client do at those times?”
What if they say „The pattern is ALWAYS present, in its full deployment, there are no moments when it fades the tiniest bit.”?
Now, I have created a good struggle: Do you hold on to ”No problem happens all the time” or do you hold on to ”The client knows best”? Who wins?
Both. Since, to boost the conflict I decided that they are equally strong affirmations!
Since the client is here to get rid of a problem that happens all the time and the client knows best, they surely have some good argument for trying.
What gives them hope that this `ever-present pattern` can change?
Most probably, at this point, the client will point to the resources they themselves have in order to find the solution they have come for. Because they know best.
Of course, would I not be so into creating conflicts between concepts, I would have simply said from the start that we can question anything – and that is why we are there – but we never question the client’s ability to make progress on their own terms.
This is only an imagined arena, so maybe you want to see how things would unfold in a real organisation with real people.
Mark McKergow has written such an example of how the SF principles were useful in a situation where things were so bad, that the client actually said there were zero positive instances to mention.