Our job is to build hope, not deepen despair.
Each time we sit with a client, we face that crossroads. The path we choose depends on the questions we ask.
Some questions add to the stuckness. They deepen the sense of overwhelm and hopelessness.
Other questions generate optimism.
It follows that the questions we ask our clients are important. Likewise, the questions we ask ourselves in difficult moments also matter.
Optimism changes everything.
Salespeople who have optimism get more sales. They don’t get disheartened by the avalanche of rejection they face. While others give up, they know that the yes is coming. So they keep going and find the Yes.
Give two groups the same problem to solve. Tell the first that it’s solvable. Tell the second group that it’s not. The first group keeps going. The second group gives up.
Same problem. Similar people. The only difference is optimism.
Life is the same.
When we have optimism, we keep on keeping on. We see fresh possibilities to make things a little better. We have belief that the bad times will pass, so they become more bearable.
Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, studied optimism. He discovered that it could be learned, like any other skill.
Here’s how. When something good happens:
- take personal credit for it
- explain it as being due to some personal characteristics
- think of how the victory will reach other parts of your life.
So let’s say your team wins an award. First, you take credit for your role in the team’s success.
“My artwork made it look so much more professional. It made all the difference.”
Then you might reflect on the personal qualities that helped make that happen.
“I am good at my job. I’m a great team player. I have a good understanding of what is needed. I work hard to ensure that it gets done well and on time. I have high standards and I do good work.”
Finally, you would bleed the incident and your qualities into other areas of your life.
“This award will help me get recognition in the industry. I’ll now be even more respected in my team. My family will be proud of me. I’ll be a role model for my child. I’ll feel much happier at work, so will be less stressed at home.”
The development of Solution Focused Therapy pre-dates these findings on optimism. But Seligman’s research backs up the usefulness of many of the questions we ask.
After all, Solution Focused Therapy aims to connect you to your abilities and your genius. It asks “what’s right with you” rather than “what’s wrong with you.”
Solution Focused therapists are hyperalert to progress, resources and abilities. We ask questions about them in a way that Seligman has shown builds optimism.
Here’s 3 questions to ask your clients when you notice something positive:
1. How did you do that?
This will encourage your client to take credit for their part in it. Sometimes, a client may dismiss their own role and give credit elsewhere. “Oh it was the pills working.”
But we can still follow up to find the client’s role. “And given that the pills were working, what was it that you did that helped them work so well?”
It will also unearth some great strategies that already work for the client.
2. What does it say about you that you did that?
This invites the client to reflect on their own personal qualities.
“Well it shows that I’m strong, and I’m pretty determined when I set my mind to something.”
3. What difference did that make to you?
This invites the client to look at the many ways this piece of progress is benefitting them.
“Well, I noticed I was feeling happier and more relaxed.”
And what difference did that make?
“I didn’t bicker with my partner like I often do. We had a really nice night together.”
And so on.
Our job is to help clients generate hope. Seligman’s work gives the evidence for what is needed to learn optimism.
These common Solution Focused questions do exactly that. They are powerful and lasting.
Positives are happening all the time, for ourselves and for our clients. By turning them into optimism, our clients transform them into a force capable of making more changes too.
The optimism we co-create can become the first domino that begins to knock down the entire set.