Creating Well Formed Outcomes, Goals and Solutions in Solution-Oriented Coaching

By Dr Robert Schwarz

Can you imagine the following scene at an Architect’s office? The client comes in and says: “I do not want a building that is only one story tall. I hate brick so that is out.” I definitely do not want there to be too much congestion in the parking lot. Can you build me a building without these problems?”

Perhaps the most important resource for any person with any problem is a well-formed description of the solution to the problem. As we will see in a moment, a well-formed description of the solution is the “Royal Road to Success”. It is not the easiest thing to achieve. Before one can arrive at a well-formed description of a solution, there are several more basic resources that are needed. First, a person needs to be open to believe that a solution is possible at all. Second, a person needs to be open to the possibility that they could know what the solution might look like. Third, the person would need to be open to possibility that he or she deserves and is capable of achieving the solution once it is described.

Well-Formed Outcomes

An intrinsic part of both coaching approaches is having a good idea of the outcomes one wants to achieve in the future. The description of an outcome is considered well-formed when it has certain characteristics. These characteristics make it easier for someone to get from where they are to the desired outcome. There are several variations of the characteristics: Dilts and Green (1980) described the NLP version of the rules as follows.

1) The outcome must be stated in positive terms. In other words, well-formed outcomes cannot be described as the cessation or decrease of something (e.g. less depressed or no more flashbacks). Instead of "getting rid of flashbacks" the outcome could be remembering what happened as a distant memory while remaining calm.
A Solution-Oriented version of this criterion would emphasize that:

A) The goal should be small. This allows for an increased chance of building a string of small successes. Behaviorists call this shaping behavior.

B) The goal should be seen as the beginning of something rather than the end of something. It allows the coach and the client to focus on the beginning of the solution occurring. A question to ask is, "What would be the very first things that would let you know that you are on your way to getting to the solution?"

A good testable sensory description of the full elaboration of the outcome may be out of reach for the client. But a testable sensory experience of the very first thing a client would notice on the way to the outcome may be in reach. Third, once the client gets to the first step, it will be easier to describe the testable sensory aspects of steps two and three and so on.

2) The outcome must be testable in sensory experience. In other words the outcome must be described in specific detail that one could see or hear or feel. O'Hanlon uses the idea of "video talk." The Coach may ask the question, “If we made a video of this outcome what would we see and hear on the video?” In addition, sensory experience can include internal auditory dialogue, internal visual pictures and kinesthetic feelings. The coach can ask, "What would need to be different for you to be able consistently three-putt? The client might say, “ I would have to be calmer,” The coach might ask, “What would let you know that you were calm. The client might eventually say, "I would be breathing comfortably and my muscle would be relaxed. I would see the ball heading toward the cup in my mind."

It is crucial to understand that the very act of describing an outcome in such detail increases the representation in the brain of the outcome, thereby significantly increasing the probability of it actually happening. The elicitation of a positive and testable goal can take considerable time and effort, but is always worth it.

3) The outcome must be contextualized. The criterion deals with the issue that a specific state of mind is not likely to be useful in all situations. Furthermore, clients often need to recognize that they are in a different context with different resources available so that different outcomes are possible. For instance, the skills needed to deal with one type of sales situation might not be appropriate for another type of sale.

4) The desired outcome must be initiated and maintained by the client. The most common violation of this rule in general therapy are complaints about other people. For instance "I want my wife to be more affectionate". Another is “I want my boss to give me a raise.” The coach would need to help the person describe what they do that leads to their wife being more affectionate. Or, what behaviors are necessary to increase the chances that the boss will give a person a raise. . This criterion is designed to help return the power to the client.

Once a person has created goals that conform to the above criteria, they are well on their way to making those goals a reality. If there are still problems, it is likely that one final criteria needs to met for the goal to be well-formed.

5) The desired outcome must be ecologically sound. When change occurs in the targeted aspect of a person’s life there are likely to be consequences in other aspects of a person’s life. A desired outcome is ecologically sound when the consequences are not perceived to be unduly negative.

For instance, a client wants to become vice-president of the company. He makes sure that he has a positive, well-specified, well-contextualized description of how he is going to get there. Yet, he still does not do what he really needs to be doing. When we look at the ecology of being a vice-president at the particular company for which he worked a significant issue became apparent. The client would have to work many more hours. He could not spend the time he wanted to spend with his family. Many times ecological problems can be resolved and then it is a relatively easy matter to get to the goal. In other cases, the situation calls for making changes in the original goal so that the person does not waste their time and energy, nor become frustrated or conflicted.

In this particular example, the man had a long talk with his wife and kids and decided to make changes in his career path so that he could spend the time he wanted with his family. This person was actually thrilled with this outcome, because for the first time he did not feel so torn between two opposing goals.


Creating your own well-formed Goals.


1)Write one goal down in whatever way you think about it.

2)Step by step begin to transform it. For instance, if you write: I do not want to be in debt. Then on the line below it write: I want to have enough money to pay off all of my loans and to put $300 a month in the bank.

3)Then continue to transform the goal step by step until all the criteria are met. You can ask yourself some of the questions in the article For instance: What would be the first step in this process? The answer might be: write out a budget.

4)Expect to take some time with this. If it were all that easy, you would have done it. If you get stuck put the worksheet away for an hour or a day and then come back to it. If you truly become stuck, well at least you know what the problem is. Ask for some help in getting your goal well-formed.

5)When you are finished, write your new goal out very clearly on a piece of paper and put it some where you can continue to see it