When Words Were Magic

Solution Focused and Brief

Milton Erickson is a great master I’m inviting you to appreciate. If you’ve come across Erickson before you might link him to neuro linguistic programming (NLP). For me, he mastered the beauty and magic of dialogue, and used it to offer people an alternative way of thinking about problems. As a psychiatrist and psychotherapist he challenged long established therapeutic approaches that delved into the past (e.g. psychodynamic) to find answers for current problems. Approaches that kept people ‘in therapy’ for years. He realised that finding causality, didn’t lead to solutions. It promoted labelling, and blame, and helplessness. Erickson believed that the solution to a person’s problem, was present within them, and so developed his master craft using language (good questions) to draw out solutions. He was radical as a medical professional. At a time when medication was the popular choice, he took responsibly for the implicit power his role embodied, and chose to share it. Enabling individual patients to realise their own self-efficacy in solving their own problems.

Steve de Shazer noticed this and developed the art of Solution Focussed Brief Therapy (SFBT), building on Eriksons style. He, along with wife Inso Kim Berg and others, developed a talking therapy based the following ideas.

Misunderstandings make conversation possible. If we a all implicitly understood each other, there would no need for dialogue. Ask good questions.

A problem is not present 100% of the time, there are exceptions. Focus on these, the presence of solutions rather then the absence of a problem.

Use words like the magic they are… ‘wow’ has no connotation, ‘and’ rather than ‘but’, ‘don’t’ draws focus to whatever follows it in the sentence, using ‘why’ immediately sets the person you ask as accountable, there are other ways of exploring.

Chose to communicate useful beliefs about others, make positive assumptions and use genuine affirmations to emphasise a person’s strengths, social and emotional capital. Solutions are present within all of us. A person’s own solution is more likely to fit. Use evocative questions.

A Clarifying Moment

Seven years ago facilitating a personal development programme for ‘offenders’, my first delivery day was tough. We sat in a group solving a problem – some physical puzzle (it was all experiential learning, we had great props!). My colleague Gary was my ‘buddy’ and I was terrified. After some facilitation the puzzle was proving hard, and I concentrated on encouraging them to continue. One person (we’ll call Dean) was loud and fed up – the slow win wasn’t doing anything for his self-esteem or motivation (oh hindsight, if only you could of helped Young-Jo). As he got more and more frustrated it was clear he was going to give up. Finally, he swore even louder, kicked the table, threw a chair, walked across the room, banged his hand on the window…and stopped.

In the 5 seconds that this played out I was using 5 more to decide my response. Then, Gary, not taking his eyes from the task and group, said “thank you for recognising that you were frustrated and taking yourself away from the group to cool off a bit”. I said nothing.

Over the next 20mins Dean (with some unattended attention craving behaviours) moved closer and closer to the table. Until he re-joined and helped finished the task. ‘Wow’ I thought ‘I have to learn that’ – fluency of strength focused reframe and immediate response.

In the Presence of Brilliance

This week I was lucky enough to observe an artist in action. During live supervision of my newest colleague – 6 months into becoming an L+D Advisor.

Being in the business of change and soft skills learning, I will always be champion face-to-face sessions. Nothing can replace the craft of establishing rapport and creating a learning environment where humour is juxtaposed with serious discussion around emotive topics. Where information is offered out for learners to chose or not, at the right pace, at the right time, from a not-knowing perspective. She had no ego or goal to serve by demonstrating her knowledge. Where constructive conflict is brought alive with evocative dialogue. Questioning and listening. Where people come together and trust, support, and allow each other to be wrong, to challenge, to grow.

We shared a moment. She stood out, and sat down – still attentive and present, but removed. We observed what was happening. Peer learning, a buzz of discussion, challenging each other, problem solving… As I distracted her and caught her eye, surprised she mouthed “they don’t need me”. If the measure of learning is application in the workplace, then self-efficacy and motivation are essential.

I hope she managed to bask in that moment and realise her brilliance. Just incase, I told her.

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