Marilyn Atkinson is the Founder of Erickson Coaching International and originator of the Solution-Focused Coaching methodology. A former Registered Organizational Psychologist, Marilyn is an NLP Master Trainer and specialist in Ericksonian Communications. Since 1980s she has been helping leading global companies and leaders through Solution- Focused and Outcome-Oriented Coaching. Marilyn has authored eight books, including The Art & Science of Coaching trilogy (Inner Dynamics of Coaching, Step-by-Step Coaching & The Flow of Coaching).
Key Skills for Solution-Focused Problem-Solving
Imagine that you just received an unexpected complex problem and need to find a solution fast. You have never experienced this situation before. What is your approach? Most of us focus on the problem by asking questions such as: “Why do I have this problem? What shall I do to get rid of this problem? Are you sure this is my problem?” Before you know it, the challenge becomes bigger by the minute. Your attention and effort are fully focused on overcoming the problem and you begin to feel less resourceful to find an acceptable solution.
When you focus on the problem instead of the desired outcome, you get stuck in the depths of the problem, as if you are in quicksand. Some people walk into the quicksand with lead boots on. One of the most powerful frames you can use to achieve results is to shift from a problem approach (I don’t want X) to an outcome approach (What I want is Y). This immediately shifts your thinking and the way you feel.
Only when your frame of mind is changed to focusing on the desired result can you begin to move forward toward the desired outcome. Using the Solution-Focused approach, you will be surprised how competently you can tackle even the thorniest of problems and turn them into opportunities.
Interested in becoming a coach? Discover how Solution-Focused coaching skills enable you to create transformational change in yourself and others.
Solution-Focused communication magnetizes our attention toward getting the desired outcome, and so the outcome is held in mind as the vision for the future. Others naturally tend to respond positively to our leadership because we hold the vision that serves everyone. Rather than dwelling on the difficulties or the setbacks, the idea of the solution becomes the road to results, and people feel cheered when they can see a strong pathway toward the solution and are inspired by the plan.
Imagine running a race where there are hurdles every 100 yards. With problem framing, you are focused on the hurdles, “Oh my, how high they are! How hard will I have to work to jump them?” Such a focus, with little or no attention on the finish line, will not make you a champion—guaranteed! The hurdles symbolically (and in reality) stand in your way. When you are focused on the hurdles, you cannot see past them to the finish line that is your true aim. The hurdles loom large in your mind, and the race seems difficult (if not impossible) to run.
With a Solution-Focused approach to communication, your mind is galvanized by your purpose and you are able to see past the hurdles before you. Your purpose always leads you to the finish line, and the hurdles become less important and less of an obstacle. In fact, they may seem so unimportant that they become nonexistent and are just part of the journey. They are still the same height and you’ll still have to jump as high. Yet with the focus on the value of the goal and what is working to move forward towards it, jumping hurdles seems natural and easy. The end of the race is always drawing you onward. The race itself becomes a means to achieve the vision, and it’s the vision—who you are becoming and who you are contributing to—that looms large in your mind. This difference in your focus is the power that leads you to success.
Notice how efficient this approach is – Solution-Focused thinking is far more useful than problem-focused thinking because the focus is on getting the desired outcome, rather than dwelling on the difficulties or setbacks. Constantly operating from a solution perspective is a noticeable characteristic of high achievers.
Focusing on who you are becoming
One of the main ways of producing Solution-Focused results that serve the world is to focus the mind and heart on who you are becoming— and not what you are overcoming. Allowing yourself to go into the lower energies of an overcoming focus puts you into a very challenging and unpleasant hurdle race. People can spend most of their lives running such a race. As soon as you put your attention on what doesn’t work as a ‘reality,’ it is hard to explore what really could work. This is one reason why the Erickson Solution-Focused method is successful in moving people quickly beyond mindsets and models that ‘realistically’ start by focusing on the problem as the necessary aspects to deal with.
As a transformational communicator using the coaching approach, once you are secure in this skill for yourself, you will quickly discover the value of using it consistently in coaching conversations with others. This simple and subtle skill of flipping a problem or conflict into a Solution-Focused orientation may be the single most powerful characteristic of transformational coaches who become known as integral change maestros.
Declaring and visualizing outcomes
When outcomes are declared and visualized carefully, people move toward them naturally, almost effortlessly. What was once considered a problem is now little more than a pebble on the road! Having a strong, inspiring, value-based vision for the future cuts all other concerns down to size. We grow and our ‘problems’ diminish.
Once you, the transformational communicator, know how to consciously assist people to orient toward their larger purpose and goals, your clients will move consistently and more easily toward their desired outcomes. They will achieve their outcomes by choice, not by chance.
Creating a compelling future
Developing, holding, and feeling a vision of a compelling future is the single most important task for a person, in order to achieve their goals and dreams.
Without this vision and the process of consistently visualizing potential action steps to accomplish it, people move in a random, scattered fashion. They are likely to struggle and get frustrated and stuck.
When people make the choice to hold a specific outcome securely on the movie screen of their minds, they naturally begin to move toward making their vision a reality—no matter how large or small it is. Their chosen outcome becomes their future.
Who you are is the future you are moving into! What is in your mind becomes your reality. You have two choices. You can visualize how your problems continue, which will move you towards having even more problems. Or, you can visualize your outcome becoming real and move toward having it. Which do you prefer?