Mastering the future perfect is the way to deal with problems. By Roland Nagel
Derived from an originally therapy-based application devised by Insoo Kim Berg and Steve de Shazer, Solutions Focused (SF) Coaching sees problems as creating the path to the solution. It involves asking useful questions to solve the problem rather than offering predetermined solutions. The next step is to provide the tools, or rather the techniques, necessary to adopt solutions-focused thinking to problem solving.
• Platform and goal setting. It is essential to establish the “platform” or starting point so the difference between it and the “future perfect” can be defined and recognised. From the platform, goals can be set which become milestones for monitoring progress.
• Future Perfect. The coach asks the coachee to pretend that the problem has been solved due to an overnight “miracle”, and to describe what is now different because of this miraculous occurrence. The rationale is not only to describe the solution but also to help the coachee articulate how it can be recognised that it has occurred.
• Exceptions, counters and keys. Once the “future perfect” has been described, the coachee may observe “exceptions” or “counters” – a time when the problem does not happen, happens less or is less severe. For example, a manager may have continuing difficulty facilitating staff meetings, yet on one occasion a meeting is well run. The manager determines what made the meeting successful and uses this as a basis for conducting future meetings.
• Scaling. This can be used to help the coachee quantify how close we are to the “future perfect” or the “miracle”. On a scale from 0 to 10 the coachee is asked where we are now. If the coachee responds, “we are only at 2”, the coach turns this to a positive by asking what has already happened that has made the situation a 2 and not a 1 or 0. The focus is then on what needs to be done to “go up the scale”, even if it is only in marginal increments.
• Compliments and affirming. This approach provides the coachee with positive reinforcement to accelerate reaching a solution to the problem. It will also enhance the rapport between the coach and coachee.
• Small actions. Small steps will eventually lead to significant differences.
Components of solutions focused coaching
• Co-operative relationship not only allows any mistakes to be forgiven but also accelerates progress towards the “future perfect”.
• Keeping “on track” by focusing on solvable issues only. A problem is considered unsolvable if it is expressed in a vague or unclear manner; in terms of what the coachee does not want to happen; in such a way that you cannot tell whether it has been solved; in a way that reveals the coachee does not want to do anything differently but is only seeking an action or change from someone else.
• Encouraging solution talk, exploring issues that are focused on the desired outcome and encouraging the coachee to talk, in specific concrete terms about the preferred “future perfect”.
• Resources. These are both concrete and intangible: Concrete – communication skills, conflict or crisis management, business insights, time and finances. Intangible – effort, the will to succeed, company loyalty and colleagueship. Less obvious, but no less valuable, can be experience gained from having to downsize a business, tackling staff morale issues or losing a big client, or even home renovating, coaching a children’s soccer team or caring for an elderly relative.
• Agreeing on the next steps. These are more likely to be small, incremental steps in the right direction rather than aimed at achieving the desired outcome immediately.
• Evaluating. An integral component of SF coaching is feedback to evaluate effectiveness.
Solutions-focused coaching is simple in terms of philosophy, language and directness. However, simple does not mean easy, and it is important to apply the techniques in a highly professional, sensitive and systematic manner in order to achieve desired outcomes.
How not to
How not to learn from experience
The award for how not to handle occupational health and safety goes to Macy Panel Products in Newcastle upon Tyne in Britain. The company found itself in court when a worker lost the tip of his thumb in a machine then made things worse by chopping off a finger while showing a supervisor what had happened. Keith Sanderson was working on an automated guillotine when the first accident happened at a factory making kitchen work surfaces. When his production manager rushed over, Mr Sanderson began explaining the incident. He then pushed his other hand into the same equipment and cut off half his index finger. Macy Panel Products was fined £1500 ($A3770) with £970 costs.
How not to pacify an infant
First candidate for the worst customer service award is former Northwest Airlines flight attendant Daniel Reed Cunningham. He has been charged with assault after he allegedly drugged the apple juice of a 19-month-old baby during a 2002 flight. He was also charged with distributing a controlled substance on the flight from Amsterdam to Detroit in August last year. The girl’s mother told the FBI that Cunningham seemed upset when her daughter became restless and began squirming and crying on the flight. He offered to give the girl apple juice three times before the mother accepted, according to the FBI affidavit. The mother later noticed the juice was bitter and foaming. It also had blue and white specks floating in it. She subsequently took the juice to University Laboratories in Novi, which confirmed the presence of Xanax, a prescription medication used to treat panic attacks and anxiety. The child suffered no serious injury. Cunningham has denied the allegations.
How not to make your customers welcome
But the winner for the worst customer service award is Aage Bjerre, the owner of a pizzeria on the tourist island of Fanoe in western Denmark. Danish police have charged him with discrimination for refusing to serve French and German customers since February due to their governments’ opposition to the US-led war in Iraq. He faces a 5000 kroner ($A1170) fine if found guilty. But Bjerre told Ritzau news agency he did not intend to pay the fine and would rather go to prison. He also told Danish media the French were lazy and would be in quarantine forever. He said he would not serve Germans either as long as they were disloyal to the United States. Sixty per cent of tourists on Fanoe are German. He has refused to remove signs outside his establishment saying German and French people are not wanted.
How not to deal with a stain on your reputation
Also vying for the same award are the two Southwest Airlines pilots who reportedly removed all or part of their clothes in the cockpit while in flight then summoned a flight attendant to bring them paper towels and soda water. The airline said it sacked the pair for inappropriate conduct. The pilots, who were not identified, argued that one of them had removed his uniform after spilling coffee, and the flight attendant saw them when she complied with their request to bring paper towels to the cockpit. It was not entirely clear why the second pilot reportedly removed his clothes.
How not to attract visitors
The prize for the worst-timed advertising campaign goes to the Hong Kong Tourism Board, which commissioned a series of magazine ads saying a visit to the city would “take your breath away”. Shortness of breath is one of the main symptoms of SARS – severe acute respiratory syndrome – the strain of pneumonia that started in southern China, moved to Hong Kong and then spread globally. The Hong Kong Tourism Board told the Wall Street Journalin Europe that the ad campaign was commissioned before the SARS outbreak. A spokesman for the board said the board tried pulling the ads or changing them after the first cases of SARS. Unfortunately, in many cases, it was too late.