The Solution-Focused Way

Finding solutions is not just what Secretaries do in their jobs every day; it’s also a necessary part of being resilient that can help us deal with life’s problems. The interesting thing about being solution-focused is that it’s not even necessary to know the details of a problem in order to fix it. You just have to focus on how you want things to be different and work towards that.

Analysing the problem won’t help solve the problem

Imagine that you are hungry and decide to go to a restaurant. You sit down, and the waiter comes over with the menu. Does he ask you how long it has been since your last meal, how severe your hunger is, how long you’ve been hungry, what you think caused the hunger, what impact your hunger has had on your colleagues and family? No. And you don’t think of these things either because there is no need to delve deeper into the hows and whys of the hunger problem in order to fix the problem. All you have to decide is what you would like to eat, tell the waiter and then enjoy your hunger-busting meal. Your hunger has been satisfied, and that’s all that matters.

We can do the same with any area in our life that we would like to change. Being solution-focused does not mean we ignore problems. It just means we acknowledge that there is a problem and then focus on the solution.

You have what you need

When we think in a solution-focused way, it usually becomes clear that we already have resources available to us. These can be a support network, our natural strengths and talents, and past experience of when things went right.

Take the example of arranging a big client lunch at short notice. The solution-focused way to solve the problem of finding a restaurant would be to ask your fellow Secretaries for recommendations or to ring up the restaurant you always use for client lunches. It sounds simple now, but trust me, when the pressure is on and everyone is waiting to hear which restaurant to go to tomorrow, the most obvious answers can be the hardest to reach. That’s when it helps to ask yourself, “What worked in the past?” and “Who might I ask for help?”

Find the exception

It also helps to look for exceptions to the problem – times when things did go right and according to plan. Do you have a boss who seemingly “always” forgets to give you the taxi and restaurant receipts? Is it really the case that she never remembers? Surely there must have been times when she did remember.

If you look for the exception, you might realise that on the days you ask for the receipts within 10 minutes of her being back in her office, she remembers where she put them. Solution-focused thinking has revealed the solution: ask for the receipts as soon as she walks into her office.

When we’re in the middle of dealing with a problem, it’s not so easy to see that it isn’t really this way 100% of the time. Ask yourself, “When is the problem not a problem? What is different at those times?” Your answer will reveal the exception to the problem which you can then try to replicate.

The miracle question

The key element of a solution-focused approach is to identify the preferred future or outcome. That’s how you shift from being problem-focused to solution-focused.

In solution-focused coaching, we also use the miracle question to help our clients identify the preferred outcome. It gives hope for a better future and starts a positive chain reaction because it helps you focus on the solution without worrying about how realistic it is or how to get there. For example:

“Suppose you’re asleep tonight and a miracle happens. The miracle is that your problems have been solved. You are unaware of this, however, because you’ve been asleep. How would you first notice tomorrow morning that the miracle has happened? How would you feel? What would you do? How would other people respond to you? How would you act towards other people?”

Once you can imagine your life without the problem, you can start making small changes.

Say, for instance, the problem is that you feel unmotivated to study for your Legal Secretaries Diploma course. When you ask yourself the miracle question, you might respond that you would feel proud of yourself for having spent an hour last night doing the coursework. You would get up earlier in the morning to prep for dinner so that you have more time in the evening to study. Your kids would know to leave you alone for one hour after dinner because that is your study time. After study time you will spend time with your family.

Now that you have an “ideal world” scenario of the motivated you, ask yourself which of these things you could implement in real life. It only requires one small change to start a snowball effect of believing that change is possible, seeing the changes happen and then gaining the confidence to make more changes.

The solution-focused way of thinking gives us hope and keeps us motivated to continue moving towards our preferred future.

“The secret of change is to focus all of our energy not on fighting the old, but building the new.” – Socrates

Article contributed by Natasja King

Natasja is a Fellowship Member of ILSPA, currently working as a Legal PA at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP in London. Natasja has more than 20 years’ experience as a Legal Secretary and PA and has worked in both the UK and South Africa. She also practices as a Life Coach and Reiki Therapist through her company, Natasja King Coaching.