How to achieve a strong motivational skillset

School Of Nutrition Posted Oct 28, 2013 Future Fit Training

Motivational interviewing (MI) has been shown to promote behaviour change in a wide range of settings.

How to achieve a strong motivational skillset

It is an alternative approach to discussing behaviour change that fosters a constructive professional client relationship and can lead to better outcomes for clients. MI focuses on the client’s perspective and is concerned about how they understand things and what they want to accomplish with their lives.

MI is based on a partnership and invites clients to make change. The technique encourages clients to tell their stories and values the autonomy they have to make their own choices. It enables the professional to listen to the client’s experiences and appreciate the overall circumstances the client is dealing with. MI is also about resolving ambivalence; people get stuck on what they want or don’t want and MI helps them resolve this ambivalence and move towards behaviour change. This is achieved by helping clients to identify client-centred goals. It uses a guiding style to engage with clients, clarify their strengths and aspirations, evoke their own motivations for change and promote autonomy of decision making. It acknowledges the client’s freedom to choose and respects that position. It also listens to the client’s motivation, goals and desire to change and provides the encouragement to help them work towards this goal.

The key steps in MI are: 

  • Ask and listen – empathy and ambivalence
  • Be non-judgmental – first understand
  • Avoid argument and roll with resistance
  • See opportunities for learning
  • Support self-efficacy

Guided by these steps we can begin to define the specific behaviour. Assess readiness with respect to a specific behaviour and understand that behaviour; ready to do what and when? What does it mean to the client to make the change? Explore the seriousness, personal responsibility, controllability and optimism of the client.  Evaluate their willingness to work hard and ability to resist the temptation for an immediate reward and wait for a later reward. Use the decisional balance to identify the pros and cons for making changes or not making changes. Anchor self-efficacy by fostering your client’s belief in the possibility of change. Identify barriers and temptations, especially social, cultural and environmental.

MI is an essential skill in supporting clients through change and as such it needs to be learned and practiced. It is not a two-day training, tick-the-box exercise, which is often how it is viewed. As professionals trying to support clients through change, we need to understand this. Remember to:

  • Keep developing your skills
  • Practice a guiding rather than directing style 
  • Develop strategies to elicit the client’s own motivation to change
  • Refine your listening skills and respond by encouraging change talk from the client

If you would like to learn more about the psychology of behaviour change? Why not study our Behaviour Change Coaching course. Read more here

Ailbhe Bhreathnach



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