The Scaling Question
In 1965 the psychologist Hadley Cantril wrote an article in which he described an intervention which he called The Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale. This intervention can be seen as a forerunner of the what is now one of the most popular techniques of coaches: the scaling question. The scaling question became very popular with therapists and coaches through the work of Insoo Kim Berg, Steve de Shazer and their colleagues of the Brief Family Therapy Center, the originators of solution-focused brief therapy. They added important new elements to the scaling question. During the last decade the intervention has been refined further and its applications have become broader. Today, scaling questions are among the most flexible and versatile techniques for coaches.
A standard and complete application of scaling questions contains the following steps:
- Explain the scaling question: this can be done as follows: Imagine a schale from 0 to 10. The 10 represents your desired situation [you may describe the 10-position on the basis of what your client has said about what he or she wants to achieve]. The 0 represents the situation in which nothing of that desired situation has yet been achieved.
- Ask about the current position: Where are you now on this scale?
- Ask about what is already there: Focus on what is there between the 0-position and the current position. Example questions: How did you manage to get to your current position on the scale? What has helped to get there? What worked well? What else has helped? Encourage the client and keep asking for more details until you get a lively description of what the client has done that helped.
- Ask about a past success: Ask about a situation in the past in which the client was already a bit higher on the scale. Questions you can ask are: Have you already been higher on the scale than your current position? What was the highest position you have been at on the scale? What was different, then? What did you do differently? What worked well? Encourage the client to calmly look for an example of a past success. Ask about this situation in a curious tone until a lively description of what the client did that worked in that situation.
- Visualize one step higher: Invite the client to describe vividly what the situation will be like when the client will be one step higher on the scale. Example questions are: What will one step higher on the scale look like? How will you notice you will have reached one step higher on the scale? What will be different then? What wil you be able to do then?
- Ask about a small step forward: Invite the client to name one step forward he or she may take. Example questions: Has what we have discussed been helpful for you for choosing a step forward? What might that step be? In what situation might you take that step?
The picture below summarizes these steps: