Coaching and Mentoring Techniques: Part 4 – a solution focused approach

mentoring techniques

Coaching and Mentoring Techniques: Part 4 – a solution focused approach

The solution focussed approach as part of the range of coaching and mentoring techniques offers simple and effective tools that allow the mentee’s own voice and opinions to be heard and for the setting of small, defined goals towards change.


Many individuals who experience difficulty often become isolated and develop negative opinions of themselves and others.  The language of this approach helps to introduce an element of questioning around this negative and destructive opinion.


The solution focused approach as one of the coaching and mentoring techniques concentrates on people’s competencies rather than their deficits, strengths rather than weaknesses and their possibilities rather than their limitations.


The mentor validates the mentee’s views, searches for incidents where they are different then investigates what is different which allows the mentee to hear in practical terms how they affect situations positively or negatively.


As far as coaching and mentoring techniques are concerned the fundamental principles of this approach are that the mentee is the expert in how they react to situations, what works best for them and what doesn’t work.  The mentor’s role is to illicit this information by asking useful and constructive questions.


The mentor who is solution focused is curious rather than prescriptive and asks how a situation will be dealt with rather than instructing the mentee on what to do.   Individuals learn more about themselves when their opinions are sought.




Reframing is a frequently used therapeutic tool – that is, taking a negative word and putting a less negative meaning to it.  This is not to minimise the problem, and it is important that people don’t feel that their opinions are not valid or taken into account.  Reframing suggests a new and different way of behaving, allowing the mentee to alter their behaviour and making it possible to effect changes while ‘saving face’.


For instance, a person who has been labelled as ‘lazy’ is often trapped in that image. Reframing the word to ‘laid back’ will enable allows the start of a journey towards ‘more energetic’, for instance, ‘I got the impression from what has been said that you were quite laid back in that particular lesson’ – leading to ‘If the teacher said you were more energetic in class, what would you be doing differently?’


Similarly with other labels that young people are often given or use

about others:

DISTRACTED………………….interested in lots of things

IMPATIENT……………………..action orientated, has a high standard


DEPRESSED…………………….overwhelmed, taking time out


NAGGING……………………….shows concern, trying to bring out best

STUBBORN……………………..determined, self-willed

TALKS TO MUCH……………communicator, expressive

DYSLEXIC………………………..has a different way of learning




Exceptions can often trigger strengths that have long been forgotten.

For instance, following the reframing exercise of ‘lazy’ to ‘laid back’ and asking about the ‘energetic’ difference, the mentor might then ask the mentee questions about times when they have been ‘energetic’ in a class or group, and what they were doing differently, what difference that made to them and what difference it made to others.  The mentor uses, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHO and HOW questions rather than FEELING questions in order for the changes to be observable to both client and helper. ‘What will you be doing that will tell others that you are switched on?’ ‘What difference will this make to you?’ ‘Where will it matter most?’


Often, just asking about exceptions to difficulties can be helpful to an individual since it is a reality that people don’t often have the emotional sophistication to sit down and reflect on times when they have coped with similar problems, and therefore remind themselves that they are capable of dealing with difficulties. The mentor can be very effective in raising the young person’s awareness of their strengths simply by asking subtle questions about exceptions. Equally, exceptions can highlight how the person’s behaviour affects situations positively and negatively.


Future talk is a form of visualization that is helpful in mentoring. It allows clients to identify small, observable, achievable tasks that would bring about change in a difficulty they are facing, whether it is a small difficulty, e.g. they feel left out of a group, or a bigger problem such as they don’t have enough confidence to engage in an activity, or they may lack support at a meeting where they will be asked to address inappropriate behaviour. It encourages all to hear a point of view that they many not have heard before and, because it does not involve ‘blaming’, it allows others involve to hear their part in the change process.


‘If I met you next week and you were in control of things and were doing OK, and I asked you how it had happened – who had done what – what would you be telling me?’

  • What’s happening differently now that you are doing OK?
  • How do you control things?
  • How do you cope now when you feel frustrated – what do you do?
  • If I saw you the day after things started changing, what would I have noticed that was different?

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