How people change 2018 ápr 03

In professional conversations among colleagues since many years I take pleasure to tell stories around our influence as coaches on how people change.

However recently I start noticing that I become more and more curious about something else: the contribution of the client.

Research on what works in therapy (Duncan, Hubble, Miller, 1999) suggests that 40% of results achieved in helpful conversations are due to factors in and around the client, 30 % based on mutual relationship with the client, while e.g. the professional methods applied only account for 15% of the success.

Now of course in our solution focused methodology we already do a lot to honor and amplify these 40 % of the client’s contribution.

  • we explore what works already for the client, and how they manage to do that
  • we explore the client’s ideas on what will work in their preferred future
  • we presuppose that whatever helps is highly individual to this particular client and not a result of generalized best practice or research
  • we trust in the interactional co-creation of a useful conversation together with the client thus largely relying on the contribution of the client

Reading through the list above I cannot help but notice that all these points are of course stated from the perspective of what WE as coaches add to the interaction.

When Insoo and I wrote the first book on SF Coaching (Brief Coaching for Lasting Solutions, 2005) Insoo dedicated a full chapter to “How people change”. To this day I am convinced it is the most important chapter of the whole book.  Insoo beautifully describes, how people manage to change and bring out the best in themselves within an interactional frame of reinforcement by someone else. She describes e.g. how the grumpy old school teacher becomes mild and supportive after he received an appreciative and acknowledging feedback for his huge effort in rigor and strength. In all of Insoo’s examples the interaction and the reinforcement by others are key to miraculous change. This interactional perspective of course illustrates the research study cited above, which points out the importance of helpful factors surrounding the client and of the relationship quality with significant others.

So much for the interactional perspective – time to move on to the client’s contribution:

Earlier this year I finally started to write down stories about the capability and brilliance of clients in successfully dealing with change just all by them-selves:

  • the astonishing little boy who does not get what he wants from his parents and literally within seconds re-adjusts himself to easily embrace a future without his hope come true.
  • the IT startup team which within 90 minutes boldly abandons the mid-size project they have worked on since more than three years and instead spontaneously start creating a 12.3 billion dollar product which will potentially change the world
  • the woman who is desperately aspiring to become more determined in her leadership role only to discover 45 minutes later: “I do not need a coach, since I realize now that I am much further progressed than I thought.”

Being curious about people’s re-adjustment process seems to generate valuable insights on how we human beings expertly “do change” by ourselves.

I recently lead an interview with a young professional about the moments following his being fired (for the 4th time within 2 years). In our conversation we jointly began to discover how he had moved from shock and disbelief to gratitude actually embracing and actively shaping a new future ahead of him in less than 5 minutes. Our in depth conversation provided both him and me with surprising details about his unique and successful capability to re-tune.  I have become very appreciative of things that happened for this young professional in the moments when disappointment turns into curiosity, curiosity into a hope and hope into gratitude.

I admit that I have become even more curious to explore further details of change by and for ourselves. And there even seems to be an added benefit: Interestingly now when life gets in the way of my own plans I seem to take less time to re-tune.


Peter Szabo is an Master Certified Coach with the ICF (International Coach Federation),specialized in executive coaching, and the founder and Senior Vice President of SolutionSurfers with headquarters in Switzerland.  He is also a member of the ICF assessment team for the professional certification of coaches. His book on re-tuning is available on Amazon.