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).
Using Open-Ended Questions in Solution-Focused Conversations
Most people do not notice that they can direct questions very specifically to both the conscious and beyond-conscious mind and get different yet very useful answers. If you only direct your questions to the conscious mind, you are limited in the world you access. Moving beyond gremlin thinking starts with becoming familiar with beyond-conscious access methods. Effective coaching paves the path to exploration of beyond-conscious ideas. It does so by using open-ended questions, creative brainstorming, systemic visualization, humour, and a light, questioning voice tone.
Solution-Focused coaching and effective conversations can help people quickly move past—or better yet, soar over—the old habit systems and toward the integrative capabilities of the beyond-conscious mind.
Every time you ask yourself or someone else questions that invite visuals in the mind (for example, “what do you imagine the best and most efficient steps to be?”), it becomes possible to envision choices and start engaging the beyond-conscious mind in its positive movie-making ability. You can visualize a variety of responses in several different contexts. You become empowered to formulate a magnificent plan and take effective action.
A combination of open-ended coaching questions and genuine curiosity can open a new window on your inner world. You can learn to effectively pay attention to what is going on within you as well as what is going on around you.
Interested in becoming a coach? Discover how Solution-Focused coaching skills enable you to create transformational change in yourself and others.
Most humans habitually use approximately four chunks of conscious focusing power, moment by moment. You can develop and widen this system for flexibility and learn how to sweep all areas of attention, which is what many great coaching questions are designed to have us do. In this way, you will gradually develop flexible access into your integral life development system and the joy of consciously living from your values. You also get much broader access to the vast range of inner planning tools that you already possess.
Although your deeper mind has the capacity to see the value-based vision at all times, sometimes it gets mixed up. For this reason, you may need to amplify your recognition of what is most important to you. Become really curious about how to tap into the wisdom of your beyond-conscious mind. Through your own personal exploration, you will find ways to question and to address this inner part of yourself in the same way you address and connect with various people in your life. You will practice and learn how to bring out the deeper and possibly unvoiced knowledge of your inner self.
By developing your flexible access, you move past the emotional brain habit of safety beyond all else. We jokingly refer to this as “hardening of the categories.” Calcified categories are no joke! The emotional safety system categories that we developed to protect ourselves create a sameness focus that gradually moves most people toward withdrawal into their private lives, powerfully diminishing life potential. It is important to stop and remember that the past is not the future, notice and see how the world is new today. This allows you to set your next step with fresh eyes.
These sample questions will give you good ideas about working with a person to create appropriate questions. The question needs to be open-ended and developmental and requires a particular learning or discovery aim. For example:
What is important for me in…
What ways of learning will be most important for me in…
- ...developing further capacity for learning (in)…?
- ...unfolding inner knowledge about…?
- ...evolving leadership skill (in area X)…?
- ...exploring specific areas of development (or goals X, Y, and Z)…?
- ...sponsoring the emergence of a specific creative field (field A, B, or C)…?
- ...discovering key ways to proceed with . . . ?
Or other questions might be:
- What are some strong choices so that I could begin to…?
- How may I begin to effectively upscale my (creativity, abilities, choices…) in the area of…?
- What are some key ways I can expand my skill with…?
- Who do I need to become to…
In summary, as you step into being a conversational partner that awakens the genius in people so they live their highest potential, you want to be absolutely certain to:
- Reframe all negative language to the positive (“If you don’t want _____, what do you want?”)
- Assist people to keep engaging and making use of their visioning capabilities and focusing on what they want to create.
- Use tonality that is warm and relaxed to support people opening up and responding to possibility rather than shutting down and reacting from a narrow band of habitual responses.
The aim of Solution-Focused coaching conversations is to create flow states of connection with the creative beyond-conscious mind. As you integrate this work in your own way, you will find ways to bring out the true genius of an effectively interlinked mind-brain system – like Helen Keller, who found a whole new world beyond her original system by seeing the guiding light of her soul and listening and honouring her authentic inner visions.