Solutions Focus Approach

by Paul Z Jackson

The main tools

Let’s meet the set of six practical tools which you can use, either independently or in combination, to guide you through any change setting to make it more constructive and improve your prospects of getting what you want.


The platform is your starting point. It is your topic or subject matter. You have the most useful platform when you can state what you want (even if this might be only to yourself and you choose not to be so blunt in discussing it with others).

See Building a platform

Future perfect

If you have a short statement of what you want or what you both want (‘Let’s decide where we’ll invest in a new factory this year’), you might explore a future perfect – a detailed description of what you want. The future perfect takes you into the world of suppose: ‘Suppose we had the factory that we all wanted... what would it include...?’

See The future perfect


Our third tool is scaling. With scaling, you can create a range from 1 to 10, where 10 is the best it can be for you – your future perfect – and 1 is the opposite, where nothing of the desired future is happening at all. You can then use various points along the scale as conversational devices. Typically, you’d ask, ‘Where are we now on the scale?’ or perhaps, ‘How would you know you were one point higher?’

See Scaling


Once you have established a scaling point, you might ask, ‘What is it that is getting us that high on this scale?’, and the answer produces a list of counters. Counters – as the term implies – are anything that counts towards getting you to where you want to go.

Counters include resources, skills, know-how, examples of previous success – even the willingness of someone to have a go to improve matters. Of course, you can include discussion of counters in your conversations without having a scale: for example, a manager might ask a new recruit tackling a tricky assignment, ‘What do you already know about that?’

See Using counters


Another useful conversational tool is the affirm – offering an affirm or a compliment by naming a skill or positive attribute of one of the people involved in a project. If you are noticing a positive contribution, it may well be worth saying something like, ‘I’m impressed by your willingness to have another go at talking to this supervisor who’s been giving you so much trouble. I guess that takes some courage.’ A well-placed affirm can give an amazing lift. To be effective, an affirm needs to be experienced by the recipient as sincere and accurate, so always base affirms on the evidence.

See Using compliments and affirms

Small actions

The purpose of any solutions-focused intervention is to result in something being different, which may be people seeing things differently or doing something differently. If you are holding the type of conversation from which you (and your fellow talkers) want something to be done, then develop a sense for small actions – the kind of steps that can be taken soon after the conversation finishes.

The ideas for small actions may pop up at any time during a constructive conversation. Capture them carefully as you go along. Sometimes it is clear exactly what one or the other person needs to do; sometimes it’s better to use part of a meeting to run through your collection of potential small steps and decide which to select.

See Using small actions