I recently heard Stephen Rollnick, co-author of Motivational Interviewing, ask this question:
“What does a skilled guide do and what types of questions do they ask?”
A good question might look like:
“Where do you want to go today?” (finding focus in a conversation)
“What is the destination where you would like to end up?” (evoking directional question)
In our conversations, we are reaching out and wondering with curiosity about how and why someone might change. If you ask one of those questions, developing an ear for the language of change you hear is essential. Find out why the client wants this change and then reflect it back to them. Then, watch their motivation “rise like liquid rapidly swelling inside a container.”
To continue the conversation, focus on encouraging more of this language to guide their energy toward change.
Examples might be:
“If you were to make this change, how might it benefit you” (directional question), or “you see how this change might benefit your life by doing X” (directional reflection).
Whatever “change talk” language you hear, summarize it back to the client (the flowers of change and not the weeds of struggle or sustain talk).
Finally, if you ask a directional question, keep reflecting back what you hear and “don’t change lanes” as Rollnick states. Basically, ask an evoking question, listen intently to what you hear and say it back without changing topics.
Being a skilled guide means you know what questions and reflections to use and which to leave out. Although it takes time and energy to learn this language, is learning MI worth it?
If your conversations are going in circles, where you are the one arguing for change, incorporating this type of guidance will be a gentle way to help people in their worlds of struggle. We are creating a safe space for the client to explore possibilities of behavior change.