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is designed to find a constructive way
through the challenges that often arise
when a helper ventures into someone
else’s motivation for change. In particular,
it is about arranging conversations so
that people talk themselves into change,
based on their own values and interests.
Attitudes are not only reflected in, but are
actively shaped by, speech.
Motivational interviewing is now applied in
a wide variety of settings. Depending on
the context, the recipients might be referred
to as associates, employees, leaders,
clients, patients, students, supervisees or
might be leaders,
partnership, a respectful evoking of
providers’ and recipients’ own motivation
and wisdom and a radical acceptance
recognizing that ultimately whether change
happens is each person’s own choice, an
autonomy that cannot be taken away no
matter how much one might wish to at
times. This partnership aspect bespeaks
a profound respect for the other, a core
tenant of lean.
The most important aspect of using
motivational interviewing is the mindset
and heart-set of the person using it
to assist another. There is a profound
underlying “spirit” that must be
present or it becomes a trick, a way to
manipulate people into doing what they
don’t want to do. In short, it becomes
just another version of the righting reflex,
a battle of wits in which the goal is to
outsmart your adversary.
The spirit of motivational interviewing
has four key interrelated elements:
partnership, acceptance, compassion
and evocation. For each of these, there
is an experiential as well as a behavioral
component. One can, for example,
experience acceptance or compassion
for others, but without behavioral
expression, it does them no good.
Let’s examine the four elements
beginning with partnership. It is not
something done by an expert to a
passive recipient, a teacher to a pupil,
a master to a disciple. In fact, it is
not done “to” or “on” someone at all.
Motivational interviewing is done “for”
and “with” a person. It is an active
collaboration between experts. A
partnership is like
dancing rather than
Acceptance is a
respect for the other
as having worth in
his or her own right.
To accept a person
in this sense does
not mean that you
of the person’s
actions or acquiesce to the status quo.
There is a fascinating paradox here.
When people experience themselves
as unacceptable, they are immobilized.
Their ability to change is diminished or
blocked. When, on the other hand, people
experience being accepted as they are,
they are free to change.
Demonstrating accurate empathy is an
important part of acceptance. Accurate
empathy is an active interest in and
effort to understand the other’s internal
perspective, to see the world through his
or her eyes; to sense the other’s inner
world of private personal meanings as if
it were your own, but without ever losing
the “as if” quality. Accurate empathy
is the single best predictor of a higher
success rate in change conversations.
To be compassionate is to actively
promote the other’s welfare, to give
priority to the other’s needs.
It is possible to practice the other three
spirit elements in pursuit of self-interest.
The other three elements can be used to
exploit, to pursue one’s own advantage
and gain undeserved trust and
compliance (Cialdini, 2007). To work with
a spirit of compassion is to have your
heart in the right place so that the trust
you engender will be deserved.
The last element is evocation. So
much of what happens in conversations
about change is based on a deficit
model, that the person is lacking
something that needs to be installed.
The implicit message is, “I have what
you need, and I’m going to give it to
you,” be it knowledge, insight, diagnosis,
wisdom, reality, rationality or coping
skills. Evaluation is so often focused
on detecting deficits to be corrected
by professional expertise. Once you
have discovered the missing ingredient,
what the associate lacks, then you will
know what to install. This approach is
reasonable in automobile repair or in
treating infections, but it usually does not
work well when personal change is the
focus of the conversation.
When Stephen Rollnick and William
Miller began teaching motivational
interviewing in the 1980s, they tended
to focus on technique, or how to do it.
Over time, they found, however, that
something important was missing.
As they watched trainees practicing
motivational interviewing, it was as
though they had taught them the words
but not the music. What had they failed
to convey? They realized the most
important ingredient: the spirit.
The primary purpose of motivational
interviewing is to strengthen motivation
for change — the person’s own
motivation. People learn about their
own attitudes and beliefs in the same
way that others learn them: by hearing
“Addiction to the status quo” is a registered trademark.
Anderson is president of ResourceSyncing, Chamblin
is a lean coach and Oslin is business director of
Lean Leadership Coach Capital One. The article was
reviewed by Michelle L. Drapkin, PhD, of Motivational
The spirit of
interviewing has four key
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