Bringing the Solution-Focus to Coaching Supervision 

Bringing the Solution-Focus to Coaching Supervision 

From its inception, coaching was steeped in the traditions of solution-focused practice.  Models such as GROW and OSKAR are predicated on the efficacy of knowing where we want to get to, taking incremental steps towards it and noticing what works.

In recent years, however, coaching has become increasingly interested in dimensions that focus on the roots of behaviour, underlying beliefs systems, relational dimensions of coaching and other approaches that draw from schools of psychotherapy.

As welcome as this diversity of practice is, there has been a creeping tendency to dismiss solution-focused approaches as potentially superficial and short-term.

To some degree, this is even more pronounced in coaching supervision, which given its roots in psychotherapy supervision is perhaps not overly surprising.

In this article, I’d like to invite you to take a fresh look at Solution-Focused practice in supervision by exploring one of its key approaches and demonstrating how it can be used in practice. I’m talking about The Miracle Question. 

The Miracle Question, sometimes known as the “Magic Wand” question, essentially places the client in the hypothetical realm that their challenge or problem is gone. From there, they can envision how the future would look like, if the problem was no longer there. 

Because this is such a catalytic question, over time the Miracle Question was borrowed across many self-development practices, starting from therapy (where it originates from) to coaching and business mentoring. 

The Miracle Question has many variations, but the essence of it is this: 

If I waved a magic wand, and the problem was gone, what would be different?

Even in this basic form, the Miracle Question is so powerful because it transports the client in the realm of possibility.  

However, at its core, the Miracle Question is in fact not a question – but a series of questions, or a journey that the practitioner takes the client on. The extent of the transformation it can generate depends largely on how skilfully it is being applied.

The series of propositions and questions is this: 

I have a strange, perhaps unusual question, a question that takes some imagination… 

 

Imagine…

 

After we finish here, you go home, watch TV, do your usual chores, and then go to sleep…

 

And, while you are sleeping, a miracle happens…

 

And the challenges you brought here now, are somehow solved… just like that.

 

But this happens while you are sleeping, so you cannot know that it’s happened.

 

Once you wake up in the morning, how will you notice that a miracle has happened?

Even though this script looks pretty straightforward, the effectiveness of this tool depends on a few elements of nuance – so it’s not so much about what we ask, but how.

 

Here are some of these key elements that form the how

 

Timing

Bringing a coaching challenge to supervision is usually accompanied by a degree of vulnerability. The Miracle Question, which ultimately brings the coach into thinking about outcomes, can feel jarring if applied too early in the conversation. It’s often important to acknowledge the experience that the coach is having, and gently guide the conversation towards introducing the Miracle Question. Because developing this question can take time, it’s important to take this into consideration before using this tool, and not try to rush it or apply it quite late in a session – it can even take a whole session to fully develop the Miracle Question. 

Pause

While applying the Miracle Question – or the “Miracle Journey”, it’s important to pause at every step, and metaphorically invite the client to take each baby step forward with us. 

Think of the Miracle Question not as a question – but as a precious gift, that we slowly and gently unwrap together with our client. 

Below is a script that can be used as the process for unwrapping this gift. 

(This script is based on Steve de Shazer’s observations in applying this question with clients in therapy, with additional guidance for the supervisor, based on Peter Szabo and Daniel Meier’s book “Coaching, plain and simple”)

The process, zoomed in

I have a strange, perhaps unusual question, a question that takes some imagination…

Pause. The client has many reasons to consider that dealing with their challenge is more important than thinking about a miracle. This is why, by letting them know that this question we’re about to ask is unusual, we prepare them to shift their thinking. 

Imagine…

Pause again. “Imagine” is the magic word that starts building a bridge between two completely different perspectives that weren’t previously connected. On one side of this bridge, our client is facing difficult challenges, and on the other side of the bridge, their challenge was solved – just like that. 

After we finish here, you go home, watch TV, do your usual chores, and then go to sleep…

Pause. This is the metaphorical “crossing of the bridge” from the client’s current reality, to the miracle. Allow the client to slowly cross this bridge, without rushing this important step. 

And, while you are sleeping, a miracle happens…

Pause. Crossing this metaphorical bridge allows the client to make this connection with the miracle. The idea of a miracle that takes place while asleep, removes the client from the realm of “what I must do to change my situation”. We invite them to consider that the miracle takes place without their active contribution. It is an invitation to let go of “working hard”. The idea of a miracle enables a sense of wonder and curiosity. This is why it’s important to offer the client a pause at every step, and give them the sacred time to allow these ideas to integrate. 

And the challenges you brought here now, are somehow solved… just like that.

Pause. As the supervisor, you don’t need to explain the result or changes that take place after the miracle – this allows the client to later build their own miracle. 

But this happens while you are sleeping, so you cannot know that it’s happened.

Pause. This part intensifies the surprise element of the exercise. This step is important, in order to clarify that there is no way to find anything out about how the miracle took place. 

This is the point where we start focusing on what’s inside our carefully wrapped gift – or the actual content. 

Once you wake up in the morning, how will you notice that a miracle has happened?

Pause. It’s important that the Supervisor doesn’t interrupt this pause, and doesn’t start adding helpful information for the coach. The answer to this question may often be “I don’t know”, in which case the Supervisor can maintain the silence, and give the coach space to reflect. When we allow this space, usually, ideas will start to come up. 

For some people, it can be useful to describe this miracle from other people’s perspective, so this question can be interchangeably asked as “what will your spouse/mother/best friend notice?”

What else is different tomorrow after this miracle happens?

Sir John Whitmore, creator of the GROW model, said the “what else?” question will give clients the deepest insights if it’s asked at least five times. The “what else?” question enables the client to look at this miracle from different perspectives.

After the Miracle Question

The real work starts once we’ve helped the client connect with this idea of a miracle. 

Supporting the client to bring the idea of a miracle into something actionable, can be done by using a few tools: 

Integrating the mind-body-emotions 

Similarly to the “Future Pacing” exercise from NLP, it can be useful for the supervisor to support the client to truly connect with this imagined outcome, or miracle. Some additional questions that can be useful are: 

What do you notice in your immediate surroundings?

How do you feel? (Where is that feeling in your body? What shape is it? What colour?) 

What thoughts go through your mind as you experience that? 

Anchoring questions

As a by-product of using the Miracle Question in supervision, we often help our client connect with an internal state that’s resourceful and integrated. It’s a space where problems are already solved. In Transactional Analysis, we would call this the Adult Ego state, or the Self. 

Anchoring questions can support the client to reconnect with that resourceful internal state they experienced after the miracle. 

“What can you do to anchor this feeling in your body, so you can access it again next time you need it?” 

Some clients like physical prompts, such as a post-it note on the mirror, but this can also be a certain posture, for example touching fingers together. The more they rehearse this behaviour and reconnect with the emotion, the better it becomes anchored, and easier to access as and when they need it. 

Possibilities 

“What can you see more clearly now, after this miracle, that you couldn’t see before?” 

“What would you do differently, if this miracle had happened?” 

“How would you handle this situation if this problem disappeared?” 

Recall previous similar situations 

“When is the last time you can remember feeling/thinking in this way like after the miracle?” 

“What connections can you make between that last time, and this time?” 

This usually enables the client to make connections to previous situations where they have found solutions – and discover tools that can support them to solve their current challenge. 

Focus on positive language 

Even if the people we work with in supervision are coaches, we are all still humans. It’s very often that we will hear answers like “well, if a miracle happened, then I wouldn’t feel so frustrated.”

In a Solution-Focused approach, we emphasise focusing on positive language, to get our clients to constantly shift their focus from problem to outcome. The supervisor will stay alert to answers about what our client doesn’t want, and ask “And if you didn’t feel so frustrated, how would you feel instead?” 

Scaling questions 

“On a scale from 0 to 10, 0 being “the worst” and 10 being “the day after the miracle” – where are you now relative to your challenge?” 

Let’s say the client says “I’m a 2” – the next question would be “Why is it a 2 and not a 1? What’s already working?” 

This enables the client to focus on resources they already possess. 

“And what would make this a 2.5?” 

This enables the client to focus not on the gap between 2 and 10, but on the next, achievable baby step they can take to move forward. 

Action bias 

Whichever way you choose to go with your Miracle Question and combining it with other tools, the Solution Focused approach is biased towards action, so it’s important to bring the client back into what action they can take to move towards that end result. 

Questions like “What action will you be taking as a result of this conversation?” can help bring the client back to the current reality, but with renewed resources and after seeing something they previously thought wasn’t possible. 

Future sessions after using the Miracle Questions, can be focused again on the Scaling principle, by asking questions like “What is better now?” This enables them to focus on their progress, and to acknowledge it. 

I started this article by comparing the solution-focused orientation to more recent developments in coaching and I’d like to end by acknowledging the power of these lenses working in a complementary fashion.  This is not an either/or but a both/and.  Even though a Solution-Focused practice is more outcome-focused than a transformational practice, being a transformational practitioner adds a layer of depth to the solution-focused approach, in particular when using the Miracle Question. 

Our ability to hold space and allow comfortable pauses, allows the Miracle Question to develop a new sense of possibility and transformation in the client’s mind, one that didn’t exist before. 

The Miracle Question exercise can be particularly useful with clients or coaches who are very self-aware and self-reflective, and are likely to have explored this problem from every angle already – before coming to supervision. The Miracle Question allows us to bypass cognitive loops and find new connections that weren’t possible before. 

Further Reading: 

Steve de Shazer and Yvonne Dolan – More than Miracles 

Peter Szabo and Daniel Meier – Coaching, Plain and Simple 

Author Details
Beatrice Zornek works with Highly Sensitive People who seek work that is meaningful and purposeful – and she supports them through career transitions and starting a business. She believes that everyone deserves to love their work, which is why her business is called “Fall in Love with Work”. Beatrice is a career and business coach and supervisor in training.
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Beatrice Zornek
Beatrice Zornek works with Highly Sensitive People who seek work that is meaningful and purposeful – and she supports them through career transitions and starting a business. She believes that everyone deserves to love their work, which is why her business is called “Fall in Love with Work”. Beatrice is a career and business coach and supervisor in training.

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