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Solution-Focused Questions: The Secret to Success

Solution-Focused Questions: The Secret to Success

“Why can’t I get a job?” “Why am I always so broke?” “Why can’t I lose weight?” These seemingly valid questions can wreak havoc on your life and your success. Whoever first said, “There are no bad questions,” was dead wrong. If you want to get a job, make more money, lose weight, or achieve any other worthwhile goal, it’s time you start asking better questions.

The problem with these kinds of questions is that you will either find or fabricate answers to them. You’ll scour your past and present to find proof for why you can’t get a job, are always broke, or are overweight. Worse yet, if you can’t easily discover any legitimate reasons, you’ll create some. Either way one thing is certain, whatever you ask you will answer, and often your answer will lead to more problems.

Here’s an example of how this works in action. Let’s say you’ve been unemployed for six months and you just received another rejection email. “What’s wrong with me?” you ask. “Why can’t I get a job?” “Why is everyone else so much better and more qualified than me?” Consciously or unconsciously you will find answers to these questions. “I must be bad at interviews, have a weak resume, or be a poor communicator.” Often this line of questioning will not only discourage and frustrate you, but it can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy wherein you sabotage future interviews.

A much more effective strategy is to ask solution-focused questions. Instead of “Why can’t I get a job?” the following are much better questions because they lead directly to solutions:

  • What can I do to make a positive and lasting impression during my next interview?
  • What would I have to do to get a job in the next 30 days?
  • How can I become more qualified than any of the other candidates?
  • What other skills do I have that I can emphasize that will make up for my lack of experience?
  • What five things can I do to stand out from the 100 other applicants?

Can you see how asking these kinds of questions will lead to dramatically different answers and results?  Asking “What can I do to get a job?” versus “Why can’t I get a job?” isn’t just a play on words or the latest pop-psychology power of positive thinking trick. It’s an effective strategy to solve a problem because when you start asking solution-focused questions, you tend to start finding solutions.

If you’re thinking that solution-focused questions are not only effective for shifting your own focus but helping others find positive strategies instead of more problems, you get a gold star. Last week I received an email with not-so-great news. I immediately typed the reply “What’s the problem? Why isn’t this working?” Just before I was about to hit the Send button I realized that these were terrible questions that would focus the conversation on what wasn’t working instead of what might work. I changed my reply to simply “Wonder what we need to do…” Guess what I received back? Yup. Some great solutions and ideas to turn things around that NEVER would have been discussed had I sent the problem-focused question.

The challenge is that most of us have been asking problem-focused questions for years or even decades. The solution is to become more conscious of your questions. The next time your automatic response is “Why isn’t this working?” become solution-focused and ask “How can we make this work?”

If you need some added inspiration, wear a rubber band on your wrist. Every time you ask a problem-focused question, give yourself a snap and rephrase the question. It might take a few days or even weeks to break the habit, but before long I guarantee that you will have a bruised wrist and a lot fewer problems…

(Clouds image by karindalzielCC 2.0)

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Robert Pagliarini

Robert Pagliarini is obsessed with improvement, making the most of his time and energy, and inspiring others to live life to the fullest by radically changing the way they invest their time and energy. He is the founder of, a community of passionate people who want to learn and achieve more in life and at work and the co-founder of The Band of Brothers Foundation, a non-profit helping kids around the world.


+ add your own
4:46PM PST on Feb 26, 2012

Wow ! Thanks. This is great. What a switch in viewpoint. I was brought up to be problem centred but this is solution centred.

6:44PM PST on Feb 24, 2012

First define success!

3:36PM PST on Feb 12, 2012

Thanks! :)

11:33AM PST on Feb 10, 2012

This article presents a really good solution for "taking responsibility" and "changing things". First taking responsibility! Who is responsible for :

1. Why don't I have a job? Big Biz sent your job to CHINA.
2. Why am I always broke? You don't have a JOB.

Now the solution: Put a rubber band on your wrist and snap it!

"After a few weeks you will have a bruised hand and a lot fewer problems." By that time you will probably be out on the street without a job and a home. Do you just need a BIGGER
rubber band? What is the solution here?

8:22AM PST on Feb 9, 2012

OK. I can see this approach is valid in many aspects of life and many people do indeed focus on the problems.
I do still believe that there are no bad / wrong questions.
But thank you for the ideas.

10:16AM PST on Feb 8, 2012

Thanks--so many people I encounter claim they are just venting for their health and do not want to focus on solutions (venting lets them blame someone else vs. taking responsibility for changing things).

7:45AM PST on Feb 8, 2012


4:42AM PST on Feb 8, 2012

Thanks for the article.

11:00PM PST on Feb 7, 2012

The rubber band treatment has been used before.

2:06PM PST on Feb 7, 2012

Our government thinks we're all a bunch of @#%# idiots. We need to get rid of those Natzis.

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