Encouraging future focus and a solutions outlook

I am often confronted by clients who are stuck in the awful things that have happened to them in the past, and unable to move beyond these to think of what needs to happen to get to a better future. They can be overwhelmed by the problem, and my skills as a dispute resolver are challenged in trying to encourage and facilitate focus on an acceptable outcome. The solution focus approach provides some very useful keys to assist with this transition.


Two tools can be used from the outset of a conversation to provide a solid foundation and an inspiring sense of direction.


The first of these is to provide a platform for a constructive conversation. To get them away from what they do not want and talking about the problem, they are asked about the topic that they wish to explore and a commitment is obtained to work on this topic and explore the benefits of doing so.

This step involves establishing a starting point, checking that the topic is worth discussing, and ensuring that the person themselves is willing to do something about the topic.

This establishes

  • a clear identification of what the person you are dealing with wants from the conversation, as well as what you as the professional can expect from the conversation;
  • confidence from the outset that the person you are working with is prepared to do something themselves to achieve this; and
  • the sense for the client that by doing this, benefits would flow as part of the outcome.

In other words, there needs to be a commitment to taking action and having a constructive and positive conversation, to discover what is important and what the underlying concerns might be, and that this will benefit the overall situation. This ensures that all involved proceed on the basis that it is a worthwhile exercise that will be taking place.


The second tool is to identify the Future Perfect. This is a rich and detailed description of the desired outcome-what the world would be like when the problem has vanished and the client has what he wants.

The aim is to provide direction for the conversation, motivate and influence the person you are working with, to focus on this better picture of the future. A detailed description gives substance to what a solution might look like and makes it easier to identify when it occurs.


In many cases the platform may be unknown and there may be a lack of capacity for insight and reflection to easily produce this. Questioning skills, reframing and summarizing would be useful in working together to achieve this. The client needs to feel heard and understood, and acknowledged and accepted for how things are. There needs to be unpacking to get to the underlying needs, interests and concerns, and assistance may be required to identify these. Once this has been facilitated, progress an be made to move onto what this might mean for the future and what the future perfect might look like.


These ideas are taken from “Positively Speaking”, part of “The Art of Constructive Conversations with a Solutions Focus”, by Paul Z Jackson and Janine Waldman. I am exploring what it is like to incorporate these ideas into my practice and would be keen to hear from ideas of their experiences, thoughts or ideas about this. Contact me at Creative Family Law Solutions.

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