Solution-Focused Questions



“Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.” – Tony Robbins

How can you use questions to improve individual performance? You can ask solution-focused questions.

This has to be one of the most amazing and practical insights I’ve ever come across.  It’s the type of thing that floats just under our awareness and we either luck into success or we fall into problem patterns without even knowing it. 

I was in the habit of giving the answers to my teams, simply because I liked to solve problems.  This created a few issues: 

  1. it created a dependency on me
  2. it didn’t teach people on the team how to be more resourceful and 3) it didn’t build momentum.

Shift People to a More Resource State

    When folks on the teams come to me know, I try to ask solution-focused questions, or challenge them to ask solution-focused questions.  This grows my skills in asking better questions.  It grows the team by having them shift into a more resourceful state and it helps them get unstuck. 

    Most importantly, it keeps the energy on the team high because we don’t get stuck or dwell. 

    It very quickly turns into, what’s the best we can do for this scenario or how do we make the most of this or what’s the best example we can learn from … etc.

    David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz write how to improve non-performance by asking solution-focused questions in their article, "The Neuroscience of Leadership", in "strategy+business" magazine.

Don’t Ask Problem-Focused Questions

Don’t focus on the non-performance or the missed goal.  It puts the focus in the wrong place.
Rock and Schwartz write:

“Let’s go back to Mike, our pharmaceutical CEO. One of Mike’s direct reports, Rob, has hired only three of his targeted six new team members this year. If Mike asks Rob why he didn’t reach the goal, he will focus Rob’s attention on the nonperformance.

As a result of this attention, Rob might make new cognitive connections (also known as reasons) as to why he didn’t find the new people. For example, ‘All the really good people are taken by other companies,’ or ‘I don’t have time to do the kind of recruiting we need.’ Although these reasons that people were not hired might be true, they do little to support or foster any change.”

Ask Solution-Focused Questions

Reframe the question to focus on finding a solution.  Ask how you can achieve the goal or create an opportunity or find a way forward.
Rock and Schwartz write:

“A more useful place to focus Rob’s attention is on the new circuits he needs to create to achieve his objectives in the future.

Mike could ask Rob, ‘What do you need to do to resolve challenges like this?’ Mike’s questioning might provoke Rob to have an insight that he needs to remind himself of his annual objectives more regularly, to keep his eyes on the prize.

If Mike regularly asked Rob about his progress, it would remind Rob to give this new thought more attention.”

    Key Take Aways

    Here are my key take aways:

  • Spend 20 percent on the problem and 80 percent on the solution.  Focus attention on the solution.  This doesn’t mean ignore understanding the problem.  It means, that rather than spending 20% of your energy on the solution and 80% on the problem, spend 80% on the solution and 20% on the problem. 
  • Stay out of analysis paralysis.  Keep moving forward, learning and adapting rather than sitting in analysis paralysis.
  • Use questions to get resourceful.  By asking solution-focused questions, you switch your mind into a more resourceful state.  Your brain suddenly starts drawing on all your resources internally and around you to solve the problem.

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