Words are weasely, they are like snakes. They slither about and we hardly notice them. They sneak around barely visible and yet as they go they can change everything in their wake. Let’s take the little word ‘get’. It’s a small word, an everyday sort of word, not the sort of word to which we would pay much attention. It is a workaday word that pops out of our mouths, a word whose definition we would never look up, a taken-for-granted word, an unshowy sort of word that lives in the shadows doing its work quietly, never attracting attention to itself. It is, to all intents and purposes, a modest word.
But the word ‘get’ is also a trouble-maker, a stirrer, a rapscallion, a veritable rascal of a word. It is a Trojan Horse carrying within those three letters a much larger set of assumptions, assumptions which can derail our attempts to work in a Solution Focused way with our clients. Let’s consider the following apparently entirely inoffensive statements ‘I was trying to get him to describe his preferred future’ or ‘I wanted to get her to be aware of her strengths’. So what’s the problem with these statements? Both seem like good ideas. Describing preferred futures and ‘noticing and naming’ strengths are both processes that lie at the heart of the Solution Focused approach – aren’t they?. Shouldn’t we try to get people to do these things? And the answer of course is no we should not. We should never try to get people to do things. As soon as we are in the getting business we are using force. And as soon as we use force then we create the likelihood that the client will respond with what we could describe as ‘counter-force’ or, more commonly ‘resistance’.
But what alternative words do we have? It is not easy. The language becomes clunky and awkward. It is less than perfect. However I would choose to say that we ‘invite’ people. Every question is an invitation’. We are asking questions that ‘invite’ people to describe things. When we use force and the force is resisted the logic of the language suggests to us that we should use more force. That’s how force operates. I do it to you. However if an invitation is turned down the word suggests that I may need to have another look at the invitation. Is the invitation attractive enough, is it timely, is it interesting to the recipient? How could I change the invitation such that the chances of acceptance are increased? After all I cannot make anyone accept an invitation. That is not what the word means.
Many thanks to the participants on the recent Solution Focused Supervision and Consultation programme at BRIEF in London for triggering this reflection and for also tolerating my diatribe against ‘ground rules’. Now have you thought about the implication of those words ‘ground rules’? Why would anyone want to use that phrase?