One of the tenets of the equine assisted learning model that I use is to be “solution focused. ” But what does that mean exactly? Don’t we always focus on the solution? Well…not really.
How many times have you tried to solve a problem by understanding why it happened? It can feel productive to talk about the problem, to learn about it and analyze it. While that knowledge can be valuable, it only concerns things in the past—things that can’t be changed no matter how much knowledge we have of the situation. Focusing on the solution is much more productive.
In his book Quiet Leadership, author David Rock says that “being conscious of removing the word “why” from our conversations can be a great way to remember to focus on solutions. ” How many of the following examples look familiar to you?*
|Problem Focus||Solution Focus|
|Why didn’t you hit your target||What do you need to do next time to hit your targets?|
|Why did this happen?||What did you want to achieve here?|
|Where did it all start to go wrong?||What do you need to do to move this forward?|
|Why do you think you’re not good at this?||How can you develop strength in this area?|
|What’s wrong with your team?||What does your team need to do to win?|
|Why did you do that?||What do you want to do next?|
|Who’s responsible for this?||What do we need to do to make this work?|
In the human world, we may have an issue meeting our goals because we are afraid we’ll fail. Perhaps we’ve made a “BHAG” (big, hairy audacious goal) and it just terrifies us. Often we’ll spend time trying to figure exactly what we’re afraid of and why, rather than just taking that first step toward the goal. Being stuck in “understanding the problem” keeps us from discovering solutions and moving forward.
When interacting with the horses, you quickly discover that focusing on the solution gets you to your goal much faster. Let’s say your task is to get a horse to stand on a tarp and this is not something he’s ever seen before. It’s pretty likely that the horse is going to be afraid of the tarp. If you spend your time trying to figure out WHY he’s afraid, he’ll never stand on the tarp. On the other hand, concentrating on moving toward the goal in small increments –getting him comfortable standing 10 feet from the tarp, 4 feet from the tarp, stepping on the tarp for 2 seconds then longer, etc.—you’ll fare much better in accomplishing your goal. And the horse will feel good about it, too.
Being solution focused may seem like a minor shift in thinking, but it has major implications.
If all we ever do is discuss a problem without offering solutions, then we’re no different from a person who makes a fuss just for the sake of making a statement. Demonstrations are great for creating awareness of a problem, but at some point, we must focus on solutions if we are to move forward.