The InterAction Collection

Treasured Article - Better Decision Making with Solution Focused Coaching

Article reviewed by John Brooker

Aug 27, 2023

Mark McKergow and John Brooker

"Better Decision Making with Solution Focused Coaching"

John Brooker reviews Mark McKergow’s article from InterAction Volume 8 Number 2, 2016

Mark McKergow introduced me to Solution Focus at a life-changing workshop, and my favourite business book is still ‘The Solutions Focus’ (Jackson and McKergow). So it seems appropriate that my Treasured Article from the archives of InterAction (Volume 8 Number 2) should be Mark’s,‘Better Decision Making with Solution Focused Coaching’. Those familiar with my work probably realise that, while I enjoy exploring theory, I am very much focused on the practical, and Mark’s article is very practical. It provides excellent advice for coaches to coach coachees and is also a helpful self-help guide.

When people are stuck

He starts by encouraging the coach/facilitator to help people use classical decision-making methods and suggests SF decision-making could be a constructive alternative if ‘stuck’. [For clarity, I define making a decision as considering all the options and taking the decision as the final act. Some might disagree; you can find a good explanation here: https://grammarhow.com/take-or-make-a-decision/]

A summary of the decision making activities

Mark includes ten decision-making activities which I have summarised here. Mark develops them further in the article in his usual eloquent way.

  1. “FOCUS on the time BEFORE the decision rather than the subsequent consequences”. E.g. scaling confidence to make the decision can provide another perspective to comparing the pros and cons of the decision

  2. “DISENTANGLE elements of the decision”. Scaling different decision elements emphasises the need to explore a scale, not just compare scale ratings.

  3. “BRING IN the other people who are involved”. Either consider what they might say or ask them in person. This is also a useful group activity

  4. “LOOK at the benefits of a ‘perfect decision’ “. This moves the decision-maker away from the decision and onto the benefits of making the decision itself - what does it help us achieve? It can also be a group activity

  5. “MAKE the decision smaller”. Mark suggests taking a small step toward taking the decision, e.g. trial a possible solution or ask, “Is it safe to try?” This reduces the stakes of a big choice and the desire to make ‘the perfect decision.’

  6. “WAIT and gather more information”. This is not an excuse to procrastinate; instead, to decide at the last possible moment (the instant in which the cost of the delay of a decision surpasses the benefit of delay).

  7. “USE the SOAR framework”. SOAR is a more strengths-based version of SWOT. It substitutes OT with Aspirations and (in Mark’s SF version) R with Resources to help with decision making.

  8. “LOOK for what works”. Ask: “How have we made similar successful decisions before?” OR “Which option most builds on our experience?”

  9. “FIND new options”. Expand the number of options when only two seem to be available, a dilemma, using the ’tetralemma’.

  10. “BAN yourself from making the decision now”. Stop trying to decide for a period of time, you might reduce your anxiety and perhaps free your mind for other options.

“YOU CAN change your mind” - as Mark also says. Not a decision-making activity more decision breaking, but change happens, and if a change has impacted the decision, it may be best to forego your pride and change your mind. 

A further activity?

The article triggered an additional thought for me. On Page 7, Mark suggests (in my words) that an inexperienced SF coach might presuppose that a coachee has made a choice and ask them to describe the ‘future perfect’. If the coachee has a dilemma, this would be a problematic supposition - why describe only one ‘future perfect’? However, I think an interesting experiment might be to ask the coachee to describe the future perfect for both options. The process of doing this might help to make the decision.

On teams with a difference of opinion on the best option, it might help progress to have the different teams describe the future perfect for their choice. This would provide a more detailed view of the future to discuss and allow finding a mutually agreeable third way forward, if necessary. An alternative might be to have the teams describe the future perfect for the option they do not support.

In summary

This is a practical, invaluable and thought-provoking article for anyone who helps others to decide or who has to decide themselves, particularly when they have exhausted all conventional options. It provides valuable tips on how you can help a coachee without deciding for them. I hope that you read and treasure it as I do.

PDF: Better Decision Making with Solution Focused Coaching

Mark McKergow
Mark McKergow
SFiO Director
SFiO Reviewed Practitioner
InterAction Contributor
SFiO Contributor

Dr Mark McKergow is co-director of sfwork – The Centre for Solutions Focus at Work, based in Edinburgh, Scotland. He is an international consultant, speaker and author. Many people around the world have been inspired by his work in Solutions Focus – presented wth his inimitable blend of scientific rigour and performance pizzazz.

John Brooker
John Brooker
SFiO Reviewed Practitioner
Editor of Interaction
Chapter Head
SFiO Contributor

John has over thirty years experience of leading people to collaborate effectively. He gained his leadership experience as a Senior Vice President in Visa International, working on international projects. Since 2004 he has used his leadership and Solution Focus expertise to enable people in multinational and national organisations to collaborate effectively. He is Co-President of Solution Focus in Organisations, an SFiO Reviewed Practitioner and has an MBA from The Open University in the UK.