How Does Motivational Interviewing Work? (Here's How You Can Use It As A Coaching Model)

by Jean-Paul Cortes

In context, as a model for eliciting change it is useful as a coaching approach and so, should be in your coaching toolbox.

What is motivational interviewing?

MI is a style of counseling for changing behavior.

It helps people explore and resolve internal ambivalence, and find the best possible solution to a problem. 

Like coaching, it's goal driven and focused on bringing about change. How? By solving internal conflicts that frequently arise when folks are working towards their goals.  

What are the main aspects of MI?

Motivational interviewing is non-judgmental, non-confrontational and non-adversarial approach.

As a coach, you role is to bring about change from your client, and not impose your own view on how you believe change should be. You help your client identify their intrinsic values and goals with the intent of stimulating intrinsic behavior change.

Your client's task is to identify and to resolve whatever ambivalence might be hindering change. As a coach, you gently guide your client to express the ambivalence and work towards an acceptable outcome in line with their values.

Proponents of motivational interviewing believe that verbal persuasion is not an effective method for resolving internal conflict. Pro-active listening is a key element in this model.

The role of a coach is to help examine and resolve ambivalence, frequently the principal obstacle to change. The relationship is more akin to a partnership in change.

What does it focus on?

The guiding factor in motivational interviewing is examining and resolving ambivalence.

What is ambivalence? It's the state of having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something or someone.

You directly pursue this goal in Motivational Interviewing by asking questions and acting as a soundboard for your client to resolve their own conflict and bring about change.

As a coach you help by being the catalyst through which your client sees a better future, and becomes increasingly motivated to achieve it.

It allows people to think differently about their behavior and ultimately to consider what might be gained by changing.

What are its guiding principles?

Motivational Interviewing is shaped by a guiding philosophy and understanding of what triggers change. It's guiding principles are:

  • Expressing empathy: coaches share with clients their understanding of the clients' perspective.
  • Developing discrepancy: which help clients appreciate the value of change by exploring the discrepancy between how clients want their lives to be vs. how they currently are (or between their deeply-held values and their day-to-day behavior).
  • Rolling with resistance: clients accept reluctance to change as natural rather than pathological.
  • Supporting self-efficacy: clients explicitly embrace autonomy (even when clients choose to not change) and help clients move toward change successfully and with confidence.

This is a brief description of how motivational interviewing works. Of course, how you use it depends on many factors. Again, coaches frequently are jacks of all trades and approach coaching by using different techniques to help folks change.

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