Influencing People’s Beliefs About the Malleability of Personal Characteristics Through a Sequence of Four Loaded Multiple-Choice Questions

Coert Visser, 2013

The degree to which people have a growth mindset can have important beneficial consequences for their behavior, performance, and development. A growth mindset can be induced by giving people effort compliments and by training them through brief workshops. This study addresses the question whether specific questions may also be used as a tool to induce a growth mindset. Research has shown that questions loaded with certain implicit presuppositions can cause people to think and act congruently with those presuppositions. A survey containing a sequence of four multiple choice questions did indeed affect people’s mindset. Version 1 of the survey started with four multiple choice questions which implicitly suggest a growth mindset. Version 2 started with four multiple choice questions which subtly implied a fixed mindset. Version 3 contained no loaded questions. Implications are discussed and suggestions for further research are given.

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What Solution-Focused Coaches Do

What Do Solution-Focused Coaches Do? An Empirical Test of an Operationalization of Solution-Focused Coach Behaviors

by Coert Visser

In an attempt to operationalize solution-focused coaching a web-based survey was administered which was filled in by 128 solution-focused coaches. To assess how solution-focused each respondent was, respondents were first asked to mention their number of years of experience with the solution-focused approach, and then how intensively they use the solution-focused approach. Then they were presented with list of 28 descriptions of coach behaviors, 14 of which were intended to describe solution-focused coach behaviors and 14 of which were intended to describe behaviors solution-focused coaches avoid. The question was: How frequently do you, as a coach, behave as follows? All but one of the items intended to describe solution-focused coach behaviors indeed correlated positively with the length of experience and with the intensity of use. All but two of the items intended to describe behaviors solution-focused coaches avoid indeed correlated negatively with the length of experience and with the intensity of use. Both the 14 solution-focused coach behaviors and the 14 non-solution-focused coach behaviors could be used to form reliable measuring scales. Read full article ...

Testing the Association between Solution-Focused Coaching and Client Perceived Coaching Outcomes

Visser, C.F. (2011). Testing the Association between Solution-Focused Coaching and Client Perceived Coaching Outcomes. InterAction 3 (2), 9-27

This paper describes a survey study into the association between SF behaviours of coaches and clients perceived coaching outcomes. A web-based survey was administered with 200 clients of coaches. The survey consisted of a list of 28 coach behaviours, 14 of which were SF behaviours and 14 of which were behaviours SF coaches would avoid. Clients were also asked to describe on several dimensions how effective the coaching had been. SF coach behaviours were strongly positively associated with positive coaching outcomes. Non-SF coach behaviours were moderately negatively associated with positive coaching behaviours. A multiple regression analysis was done, which gave insight into which specific coach behaviours were predictive of coaching success. The paper closes with some reflections on the implications of this study and with suggestions for followup research.

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Developing a Growth Mindset - How individuals and organizations benefit from it

© 2011, Coert Visser

Does success or failure depend on whether you do or don’t happen to have some or other fixed talent? Is it true that you either have talent or you haven’t? How are these questions relevant for organizations? This article is about the importance of the growth mindset, the belief in the mutability of human capabilities by effort and experience. A lot of evidence shows that the belief in the changeability of capabilities is an important condition for that change. This belief turns out to be realistic. Anything that people do can be seen as developable skills. What does this insight imply for how we manage and educate people? How can in we, in our organizations, develop a growth mindset culture?

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21 Solution-Focused Techniques

© 2011, Coert Visser

Several informal surveys have given an impression of the relative popularity of different solution-focused techniques. The following 21 techniques seem to belong to the most well-known and popular solution-focused techniques: scaling questions, the past success question, the preferred future question, the platform question, the exception seeking question, reframing, indirect compliments, the miracle question, summarizing in the words of the client, the what-is-better question, normalizing, the usefulness question, the observation question, the perspective change question, the coping question, the continuation question, the prediction suggestion, leapfrogging, and mutualizing. Below is a description of these techniques.

Improving science

Science can be defined as the systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the world. Science is one of humanity's greatest inventions which has the potential of improving our lives and our societies. The core of the scientific process consists of scientists making observations, reading scientific literature, formulating questions, testing ideas through systematic studies, and sharing their findings. The system of science contains principles and sets of rules which help make science self-correcting and cumulative. Scientists are required to share not only their findings through publication but also provide detailed descriptions of their studies so that replication of their studies by other scientists becomes possible. A process of peer review functions as a filter to guarantee that only research that meets scientific standards is published in journals. Replication studies make it possible to test findings using the same methods but with different subjects and experimenters.

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Overdiagnosed: too much diagnosis is turning more and more of us into patients

The rationale for the increasing emphasis on diagnosis
In Overdiagnosed, H. Gilbert Welch (photo), with Lisa M. Schwartz, and Steven Woloshin, explains how the medical profession has an increasing tendency to make diagnosis which is not good for us. The rationale for more diagnosis seems good. When we diagnose more we are able to detect abnormalities, like cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, etc., earlier so that we can treat them earlier and prevent serious health problems. An example of this greater emphasis on diagnosis is the prevalence of disease awareness campaigns which encourage people to undergo medical screenings. Another example of increased tendency to diagnose is when doctors have patients tested for things about which they have no complaints.

Interview with Wally Gingerich

By Coert Visser

Wallace Gingerich is Professor Emeritus of Social Work at the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio. As a core member of the Brief Family Therapy Center in Milwaukee (BFTC), Wisconsin, in the 1980s, he has been an important contributor to the development of the solution-focused approach. In this interview, he looks back on how and why he joined BFCT and on how the solution-focused approach emerged in the next few years after he joined. Also, he talks about the BRIEFER project and about a soon to be published review of the research on the effectiveness of the solution-focused approach. Finally, he reflects on the ways the solution-focused approach may further develop.

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Whistling Vivaldi And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us (Book Review)

BOOK REVIEW: Steele, C.M. (2010). Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us (Issues of Our Time). New York, W.W. Norton & Company.

By Coert Visser

This review was first published on Positive Psychology News Daily

This book by social psychologist and Columbia University provost, Claude Steele, is a splendid example of how psychologists can make valuable contributions to society. In the book, Steele writes about the work he and his colleagues have done on a phenomenon called stereotype threat, the tendency to expect, perceive, and be influenced by negative stereotypes about one’s social category, such as one’s age, sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, profession, nationality, political affiliation, mental health status, and so on.

Self-Determination Theory Meets Solution-Focused Change: Autonomy, Competence and Relatedness Support in Action

By Coert Visser

This article looks at the Solution-Focused approach (SF) through a Self-Determination Theory (SDT) lens. SDT is an influential macro theory of human motivation which has been applied to many life domains, including sports, education, psychotherapy and work. The theory focuses mainly on the benefits of self-determined behaviour and the conditions that promote it. Its relevance for helping professionals such as psychotherapists and counsellors has been recognized by previous authors. A counselling approach which has been associated with SDT is motivational interviewing (MI). This approach has some important similarities to SF but there are also some key differences. This article focuses on the relevance of SDT for SF and vice versa. Although the literature on SF makes only a few mentions of SDT, SF fits well with its main propositions and findings. The strategies, principles and interventions of SF have the effect of supporting the perception of autonomy, competence and relatedness of clients which, according to SDT, are keys to enhance self-determination. It is argued that the SDT framework and body of research are relevant for SF. They help to understand better how SF works and may be used to further refine and develop the approach. In the same way, SDT theorists and practitioners may benefit from learning about the specific and often subtle ways in which SF supports clients’ autonomy.

Full reference to the article: Visser, C.F. (2010). Self-Determination Theory Meets Solution-Focused Change: Autonomy, Competence and Relatedness Support In Action, InterAction - The Journal of Solution Focus in Organisations, Volume 2, Number 1, May 2010 , pp. 7-26(20)

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How Equality Drives Thriving

Coert Visser, 2010


The Relationship between Equality and Thriving
Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, two English epidemiologists, have written The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, a provocative book on how high levels of inequality in societies is harmful for everyone within them. Their research shows that while economic policies in developed countries stress the importance of economic growth, economic growth is mainly an important determinant of the degree to which societies thrive. After a certain point the contribution of further economic growth begins to create only diminishing marginal returns: the relationship between economic growth and certain objectively measurable outcomes, like life expectancy, level off (see figure 1).

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Supporting Clients’ Solution Building Process by Subtly Eliciting Positive Behaviour Descriptions and Expectations of Beneficial Change

Visser, C.F. & Schlundt Bodien, G. (2009). Supporting Clients’ Solution Building Process by Subtly Eliciting Positive Behaviour Descriptions and Expectations of Beneficial Change. InterAction I (2), 9-25

SF co-developer Steve de Shazer wrote, in his classic publications Keys to Solution in Brief Therapy (1985) and Clues: Investigating Solutions in Brief Therapy (1988), that SF practitioners should help their clients create an expectation of beneficial change by getting a description of what they would do differently once the problem was solved. Also, he claimed subtle and implicit interventions by the SF practitioner would work best. At the time, de Shazer did not support these claims with empirical evidence. This article provides evidence for each of the assertions made by de Shazer. Only part of the evidence presented here was already available at the time of de Shazer’s writing. Evidence is discussed from diverse lines of research like Rosenthal’s Pygmalion studies, Dweck’s research on self-theories, Fredrickson’s broaden-and-build theory, research on Winograd’s prospective memory, Jeannerod’s research on the perception-action link, Wilson’s research on brief attributional interventions, research on Brehm’s reactance theory, and Bargh’s research on priming. The article closes with some reflections on what these research findings imply for SF theory and practice.

Interview with Keith Stanovich


By Coert Visser

Dr. Keith Stanovich, Professor of Human Development and Applied Psychology of the University of Toronto, is a leading expert on the psychology of reading and on rationality. His latest book, What Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought, shows that IQ tests are very incomplete measures of cognitive functioning. These tests fail to assess rational thinking styles and skills which are nevertheless crucial to real-world behavior. In this interview with Keith Stanovich he explains the difference between IQ and rationality and why rationality is so important. Also he shares his views on how rationality can be enhanced.

The Thinktank That Created The Solution-Focused Approach - Interview with Eve Lipchik

By Coert Visser

Eve Lipchik was one of the original core members of the Brief Family Therapy Center in Milwaukee, which created solution-focused therapy in the beginning of the l980's. She worked at the BFTC until l988, when she cofounded ICF Consultants. She is the author of the book Beyond Techniques in Solution-Focused Therapy: Working with Emotions and the Therapeutic Relationship and numerous chapters and articles. In this interview she looks back on the time the solution-focused approach was developed and she shares her memories of the process of developing the approach and of the people involved. She tells about the essential shift the team made from gathering information about the problem to focusing on constructing solutions with clients. Also, she reflects on recent developments and she explains the importance of describing the approach as encompassing both philosophy and techniques. Finally, she tells about some of her current interests and activities.

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A closer look at rationality

Keith Stanovich has written an interesting book titled What Intelligence Tests Miss. The book is about the fact that IQ tests are incomplete measures of cognitive functioning. There is, as studies have show, in fact only a low to medium correlation between rational thinking skills and IQ test performance. And because rational thinking skills and IQ are largely independent it is not surprising that intelligent people can easily behave irrationally and hold false and unsupported beliefs. Several things are really interesting about this book. One is the authors insight that we do not need to stretch to non-cognitive domains (to notions as emotional intelligence or social intelligence) to see the lacunae in IQ tests. Another is the very specific and research based analysis of the topic matter.

Missing link in Dawkins' work effectively removed - Review of Richard Dawkins´ The Greatest Show On Earth- The Evidence For Evolution

Richard Dawkins' book The Greatest Show on Earth is currently high on bestseller lists in many countries. The book removes what was the missing link in Dawkins' oeuvre because in all his others books he started from the assumption that evolution was true. In this one he presents evidence. Let's walk through the book in some big steps.

In Chapter 1, Dawkins introduces the word THEORUM as a replacement of the word 'theory' which in everyday use often just means hypothesis. The word 'theorum' (inspired by the word 'theorem' from mathematics) would do justice to the fact that evolution is massively supported by evidence and therefore by no means just a hypothesis. Chapter 2 describes how we can sculpt gene pools through artificial selection (for instance dog breeding), a practice which has been known to men, of course long, before Darwin to the scene.

Can we get smarter? Yes we can!

Review of Nisbett, R. (2009). Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count. New York and London W.W. Norton, 282 pages, $17.79 hardcover

by Coert Visser

Did you read the book The Bell Curve (Hernnstein and Murray, 1994)? Did it make you feel uneasy because you did not (want to) agree with its conclusions but did not exactly know how to refute them? Among the conclusions were (loosely formulated): 1) that intelligence is highly important in many areas of life, 2) that differences in intelligence are largely responsible for societal stratification, 3) that differences in intelligence are largely heritable, and 4) that intelligence gaps between (racial) groups are hard to close (if that is possible at all).

Review of Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson

Review of Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive by Barbara Fredrickson

Barbara Fredrickson, Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina, and a pioneer of positive psychology, specializes in research on positive emotions and human flourishing. She is best-known for her so-called broaden-and build theory of positive emotions. This book describes in an accessible and captivating way what the research by her and her colleagues has taught her about what positivity is and what is does.

Solution-Focused Scaling Questions

© 2009, Coert Visser

Steve De Shazer, an American therapist and co-developer of the solution-focused approach, once, in the nineteen-seventies, talked with a client who came for his second session. He asked the client what was better now. The client had spontaneously replied: “I’ve almost reached 10 already!” De Shazer began to play with the idea of using numbers to describe one’s situation. This started the development of the scaling question used in solution-focused therapy (Malinen, 2001). Today, scaling questions have developed into the most well known and most frequently used solution-focused techniques. Scaling questions are relatively easy to use and extremely versatile. Nowadays, many therapists, coaches and managers use them. Even many people who know little about the solution-focused approach know the scaling question.

Improving language, improving life

© 2008, Coert Visser

Effective use of language can be surprisingly powerful. Not only can effective language help to improve cooperation with other people, it also can help you develop a more productive outlook on life. The purpose of this article is to help you make your language more constructive and effective. Many of the suggestions in this article are based on recent findings in psychological research and on techniques which have been developed by solution-focused practitioners and researchers.

How good does it get?


What should we expect?
Positive thinking seems to be back in style. Positive psychology, appreciative inquiry, solution-focused change, and positive deviance are some popular positive change approaches. These approaches tend to focus on resources and virtues that enable individuals and organizations to flourish. Positive change approaches hold a great promise. Maybe they can help us to improve our lives, our organizations and hopefully even our world. But just how positive can we expect life to become?

Learning to compliment effectively

© 2008, Coert Visser

1. Advocates and skeptics of complimenting

Complimenting is attractive for many people. Most people prefer to and view it as more constructive to say something positive than to say something negative. After all, who does not want to be appreciated for what he does? Although everybody makes mistakes now and then, most people mean well, don't they? This way of reasoning is surely plausible which may explain why I frequently hear people saying that is good and important to compliment frequently. They claim that this is the best way to motivate people. It is correct that complimenting can be useful. An adequate compliment provides us with the type of feedback that can help us become aware of which of our behaviors are effective. Furthermore, a compliment can make you realize that there is someone who is paying attention to you and who feels involved with what you do. This is why complimenting effectively can be useful in different contexts like parenting, education, management and co-operation.

The Origin of the Solution-Focused Approach

The Origin of the Solution-Focused Approach
Coert F. Visser

Abstract:  The solution-focused approach to therapy and coaching has its roots in the work done by therapists in the second half of the twentieth century. This article discusses some important precursors, such as Milton Erickson and the Mental Research Institute. Further, it shows how the members of the Brief Family Therapy Center, led by Insoo Kim Berg and Steve de Shazer, developed the core of the solution-focused approach in the 1980s. Key concepts and publications are discussed and a description is given of how the team members worked together closely to find out what works in therapy.

Keywords solution-focused, BFTC, solution-focused history, de Shazer, Berg

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The Support Group Approach - Interview with Sue Young

© 2008, Coert Visser & Sue Young

Sue Young now divides her time between behaviour support to schools and training in solution focused practice. She advocates using solution-focused thinking to encourage success at every level in schools. Her initiatives include implementing national policies across schools, helping local staff encourage positive behaviours in their students and giving support to individual children and parents. One of Sue’s particular interests is promoting an anti-bullying ethos. In the mid-ninties, she developed the support group approach for responding to incidents of bullying. Later she discovered how well her approach fitted with solution focused thinking and ever since, has been applying solution focused principles to all areas of her work. So, what is the support group approach and how does it work? Is it hard to do? How does it help? Find answers to these questions and more in this interview.

Moving FORWARD with solution-focused change

A results-oriented and appreciative way of making progress

© 2007, Coert Visser and Gwenda Schlundt Bodien

The solution-focused approach
Just before the turn of the millennium, a relatively new approach to psychotherapy began to raise curiosity among some organizational consultants, coaches, and trainers. Articles and books claimed this approach to be quite different from other approaches. They claimed it was simple, positive, and amazingly effective. Around that time, several groups of people in different parts of the world started using the approach in organizational settings. Now, roughly ten years later, these pioneers have made considerable progress. They discovered the solution-focused model is also very useful outside the field of therapy. Coaches, trainers, consultants, and managers have started to apply the approach, or parts of it. This has helped them to be more effective in achieving their goals. Moreover, often, at the same time, it has made their work more enjoyable.

Finding Flow (review)

© 2000, Coert Visser

`What is a good life?', is basically the question addressed by Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Well, isn't a good life just about being happy? Ok, but that is not the complete answer. For how do we become and stay happy? Not by watching TV, eating, or relaxing all day! In small doses these things are good and improve your daily life, but the effects are not additive. In other words: a point of diminishing returns is quickly reached. Also you don't become happy by having to do nothing. Csikszentmihalyi's research shows that both intrinsic motivation (wanting to do something) and extrinsic motivation (having to do something) are preferable to not having any kind of goal to focus your attention.

Luxury Fever (review)

© 2000, Coert Visser

This fascinating book describes how a new virus, the luxury fever has Americans seemingly inescapably in its grip: people spend a larger and larger proportion of our money on luxury goods. And, because for most people incomes have remained static or have even declined (in the US and the UK), this extra spending was financed by lower savings and higher debts, making the economy weaker and more vulnerable.

The Goals Continuum

Helping, negotiating, directing

© 2006, Coert Visser and Gwenda Schlundt Bodien

The goals continuum is a model reflecting in which situation you can apply which skill. The extreme left of the continuum describes situations in which the goals of the employee are the center of the discussion. In these situations helping (coaching) is the most suitable approach. The extreme right is about situations in which the goals of the manager are central. Between the two extremes on this continuum are situations that require negotiation.

The Not-Knowing Posture

© 2006, Coert Visser and Insoo Kim Berg


This article presents some thoughts about the not-knowing posture. Is it easy? Is it valuable? Is it ethical to charge money for your services while assuming a not-knowing posture? Does the not-knowing posture mean you have to completely discard expertise?
Many who are new to the Solution-Focused practice principles seem to get confused by the concept taking a “not-knowing” posture when facing their clients. The not-knowing posture (Anderson and Goolishian, 1992) means that as practitioners we work from the assumption that each case is different. Therefore we do not know exactly what the situation of the client is and what he should think or do. This is why in order to arrive at a more satisfying outcome, solution-focused practitioners ask lots of what seem like strange questions that activate their minds.

Organizational Resilience in Times of Crisis

Does the people centered management philosophy still work during crisis?

© 2005, Coert Visser

Summary - Researchers like Kim Cameron and Wayne Cascio have said for years that a strategy of laying-off people in many cases does not work, and may even backfire, in times of crisis. The situation in the American airline industry after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 was an almost unparalleled crisis. An excellent chance to take the test. Which companies proved to be most resilient and why?

“We are willing to suffer some damage, even to our stock price, to protect the jobs of our people.”
- Jim Parker, CEO of Southwest Airlines”, 8 OCTOBER, 2001

Constructive and Activating Management Techniques

© 2005, Coert Visser and Gwenda Schlundt Bodien

Managers frequently say that directing people can be a challenging task. There can be hard situations in conversations when managers try to direct people. What should you do when an employee reacts defensively and does not acknowledge the point you are trying to make? Or what about an employee who raises all kinds of different subjects and one who complains utterly? This article describes a tool for leading in a constructive and activating manner and for dealing effectively with different kinds of responses by employees.

Circles of Change

© 2005, Arnoud Huibers and Coert Visser
The solution-focused approach has brought forward a simple technique which can help to make meetings about organizational change stimulating and effective.

Organizational change
Organizations, departments, and people in organizations work are practically permanently going through large and small changes. Those changes can encompass structural aspects like a change in the business process, merging departments, implementing systems, or changes in the management structure. They can also be about cultural changes like improving customer satisfaction, improving co-operation, raising productivity, and so forth.

Looking at the Other Side of the Coin

© 2005, Insoo Kim Berg and Coert Visser

When we, as managers, change how we view a person, we can generate much simpler and easier solutions to them so that we can focus our attention on more difficult and time consuming issues.

Managing people takes more than clear black and white views. Even though it certainly is important to make expectations and rules of conduct clear, it is not as simple as it is described in textbooks. Many good managers have discovered that managing people is an art rather than a science, and all artistic skills take time to develop and become good at. Many competent managers discover this reality by trial and error.