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Trying to help someone change can be sanity-straining. Even when people face serious health scares they often don’t do enough to alter their habits, like they’re stuck on some monorail track of doom.
People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.
Change happens when people talk themselves into change. You trying to do it is often counterproductive.
People are simultaneously smarter and dumber than you think. They often know what they’re doing is bad. They’re not usually lacking information. The issue is motivation. Overcoming ambivalence. Once people get motivated, they often make the change themselves with little help.
So how do we motivate them and get them to commit to change?
We all want help but we want to retain our autonomy even more. So just telling people what to do rarely works. We often think expressing our lovely opinions is all it takes, but that just creates resistance. Telling people what to do is the opposite of empathy.
If you’re arguing for change and they’re pushing back, you’re doing it wrong. When we give people freedom and control, they relax.
Don’t tell them to change. Evoke the reasons for change that are already in their head and support those. This is what motivates people to make a shift without resistance.
The first step is asking people about their values. When you understand what people value, you know what motivates them. And when people hear themselves saying what they believe, they have a natural desire to be more consistent with that. This is the leverage we’re going to use going forward.
The four primary skills of Motivational Interviewing are:
1) asking Open questions,
2) Affirming strengths,
3) Reflective listening, and
Open questions are questions that can’t be answered with a single word. They often start with “what”, “how” or “why.” This gets people talking, provides you with information and allows them to feel understood.
Most importantly for MI(motivational interviewing), it lets them lead versus you starting a 12-part lecture series on the importance of exercise.
Asking question after question can turn a conversation into an interrogation and provoke defensiveness. So you want to use reflective listening about twice as often as you ask. This is our most commonly used tool in MI. Basically, it’s making a guess about what the person means, to reflect what they just said. “So you’re feeling uncomfortable.” This clarifies and communicates understanding.
Taking a cue from therapists, it also helps to ask them how they felt, while you listen to their stories.
Just listening to people isn’t going to get them to change. Heck, it’s equally likely to get them to talk themselves into not changing. What you reflect is a strategic choice. You’re not shining the spotlight on everything they say; you get to pick.
By what we choose to reflect, we can move the conversation in a direction to achieve our goal. In general, you want to reflect “change talk” and ignore “sustain talk.”
That’s the witchery that separates MI(Motivational Interviewing) from merely listening.
To recognize and highlight the positive about the other person, their good traits and intentions. By affirming, you’re building their confidence.
Keep giving positive feedback while listening, and build up their latent strength, which is now surfacing.
With this final step, you’re drawing together what they’ve said and presenting it to them.
It’s a more muscular version of reflection. You’re giving them an overview of their position but in a more structured fashion vs the ambivalent mess in their head. It shows you’re paying attention and understanding.
We can use the same reflection-Jedi-Mind-Trick here. There’s power in what you choose to highlight. You’re not just summarizing — you’re subtly building a case for change but with their own words.
People become more committed to what they hear themselves say. You don’t want to deny “sustain talk”. You want to evoke and explore their “change talk”.
Change talk takes the form of DARN: Desire, Ability, Reasons, Need. You want to elicit these types of statements because they will move people in the direction of change:
Desire: “I want to lose weight.”
Ability: “I want to run a marathon but don’t think I can do it.”
Reasons: “I want to exercise so I can have more energy.”
Need: “I need to get in better shape.”
We can’t push too hard. Remember, threatening autonomy creates resistance. We need to evoke these statements from them.
Use DARN questions to evoke some DARN change talk so they’ll change their darn behavior!
Research show one of the primary motivators for change is someone noticing the discrepancy between their goals and their behavior. It’s uncomfortable. And to relieve that discomfort, our behaviors usually change before our values do.
You usually don’t need to point out discrepancy. They’ll usually do it themselves with enough discussion. Again, don’t say it; evoke it.
A good way is merely asking them what they know about the subject at hand: “Tell me what you already know about alcohol and how it affects people.”
No demonizing – they’ll probably do that for you. You’re not lecturing or telling them to change. They’ll likely start the DARN process on their own.
The best way to get people’s confidence up is to ask them about previous challenges they successfully overcame.
“What changes have you made in your life that were difficult for you? Or what things have you managed to do that you weren’t really sure at first you would be able to do?”
Ask them about how it happened and reflect their strengths and positive traits back to them. Then you can roll this straight into the current issue.
“Suppose that you did succeed, and were looking back on it now. What most likely is it that worked? How did it happen?”
So your methods have worked and they’re imagining positive outcomes. Now’s the time to hit them with the key question to build a plan:
“So what’s next?”
You’re not pressuring them; you’re curious. Give them a big pause here to let it sink in. If everything has gone well, they should respond with some DARN change talk at the nuts and bolts level.
“That’s what I’m going to do: designate 6PM to 8PM for studying.”
The final step is to help them troubleshoot. You want to present potential problems so that they can offer fixes. “If X happens, what do you think you’ll do?”
The goal isn’t to stump them. It’s to strengthen the plan and to get them thinking resourcefully so they feel ready when something (inevitably) goes awry. If they immediately start coming up with solutions, they’re ready. Success.
At this point you’ll want to lean back, tent your fingers and smirk. Don’t. Instead, be happy for them.
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