You certainly can’t force anyone to change, but you can influence their willingness to do something different. Whether you’ve got an employee who tends to miss deadlines, or you’re trying to sell something to someone who isn’t ready to commit, motivational interviewing may increase their readiness to change.
Business leaders often tell me that they really want to create changes, but their employees are hesitant to embrace their new ideas. Motivational interviewing can help clarify and resolve their ambivalence and get them on board.
Traditionally, motivational interviewing is used as a psychotherapy technique to help clients who aren’t yet fully committed to making a change. Sometimes they enter into therapy at someone else’s suggestion and at other times, they want to make a change but aren’t certain how to proceed.
Motivational interviewing doesn’t have to be reserved for therapeutic relationships. It can also be an effective tool that creates change in personal and business relationships. It’s a respectful way to help other people weigh the pros and cons of change, while also addressing their concerns.
There are five general principles involved in motivational interviewing:
- Show empathy – When addressing a concern with a business partner or employee, start by expressing empathy. Show acceptance and acknowledge the difficulties the other person is experiencing. For example, say, “I know it must be really hard to balance you workload right now with every thing you have going on in your personal life.” Use reflective listening and normalize the other person’s feeling of ambivalence.
- Amplify discrepancy– Point out the discrepancies you notice between the person’s goal and his behaviour. Saying something like, “I hear you say your job is the most important thing to you, but I see that you show up to work at least 10 minutes late every day,” is a non-judgmental way to help the other person see when his behaviour doesn’t line up with his goals.
- Resist arguing– Arguing will likely be useless if you’re trying to motivate someone to change a behaviour. If you’re meeting with a co-worker who’s upset that his colleagues complain he’s a slacker, ask him what he thinks the reasons are that his co-workers might say that about him. Ask “what, how, who” questions, never “why” questions which implies criticism, and keep the conversation focused on the facts.
- Roll with resistance– If your employee says he’s not going to do anything different, ordering him to do so will likely lead to a defensive response. Instead, help him acknowledge the consequence of not changing his behaviour. Ask a question such as, “I hear you saying you aren’t going to listen to your supervisor’s request to do the project differently. What do you think will happen if you keep doing it your way?”
- Support self-efficacy– Support the other person’s personal responsibility in making change. Work to establish a goal with reasonable, attainable action steps. Find one small thing the other person can commit to changing. Clarify the plan by saying, “You’re willing to meet with your supervisor once a week to review your reports and you will use the time to focus on your productivity. Did I understand that right?”
Although instant transformation isn’t likely to result from a single conversation, discussing a person’s ambivalence in a non-threatening manner can be a good way to get the conversation started. Sometimes just being able to express their concerns can help other people become more open to change. Use motivational interviewing on an ongoing basis to continue reviewing barriers and obstacles to change.
Amy Morin Contributor