The way that we describe our work seems to me to be important since our descriptions reflect our intentions, (is that the right word?), and our intentions impact on the way that we interact with our clients. I was thinking about this during the week in the course of having an interesting conversation with a colleague in North Wales.
We were talking about those times when a client says to us ‘tell me what to do – you’re the expert’, or something similar. In such circumstances to climb up on our Solution Focused high horses and to explain why under no circumstances would we ever do such a thing and how the client is by implication quite wrong even to ask, is unlikely to prove useful. Criticising or attacking our clients really does not work and by and large it is best to give people what they are asking for. Of course if the client asks at the beginning of a session then we will, in all likelihood, have time to ensure that as a result of the talking we do together that the client leaves with an idea or two, which will have been their own, but if it is at the end of the session there is less room for ‘emergence’ to happen! So at the end of the session we might respond by inviting the client ‘to notice, between now and when we next meet times when things work out well’ (whatever those things might be), in such a way that the client works out their own ‘best way’. I often describe this, including to clients, as generating ‘bespoke solutions’ rather than ‘off-the-shelf solutions’. Or, at the end of a session if we have little time when the client requests a solution from us, we can offer a range of possibilities, ‘In the past when working with people I have met people who have done x, and that has worked well for them, and I have met people who have tried y and that has also worked well and I have met people who have been successful with z. Which of those do you think might work best for you or do you think that something else entirely would be more useful?’. I think about this as the ‘virtual group’ approach. And then if the client chooses one of the options we can invite the client to ‘own’ the suggestion by personalising it, by asking ‘and if you did decide to go down that track how would you do that in the way that is just right for you and just right for your family since after all you know your family much better than I ever could’. People really do seem to be more likely to make use of an idea that has become their own.
Many of you will have heard me talking about these ideas before – indeed there is a YouTube video that I made specifically thinking about this so here is the important bit. When discussing this I suggested that what we are doing is ‘offering’ the client possibilities. We hold the possibilities out but only the client can choose whether to reach out and to take one of them. ‘Offering’ is the key word. It then struck me, as we talked, that perhaps we could usefully think of questions as ‘offerings’. We offer our questions and if the questions make sense to the client the client will reach out and make use of them but we are not pushing our questions at the client, we are not becoming impositional with them. Yes ‘offering’ strikes me, for the moment, as a good word to use and it fits with my best image of my interaction with my client. In the past I have talked about questions as ‘invitations’ but I am now thinking that the word ‘offerings’ suits my preferences better! We’ll see and I’ll let you know how it goes.
13 February 2022