The Conversational Key to Change

When having a conversation about change, there are many tools one can use to connect and engage, but if the goal is to unlock change, you need to remember the key: getting the other person to state their own reasons for change.

This is referred to as “change talk,” by Miller and Rollnick in their practice of motivational interviewing (MI). Studies show this is the “active ingredient of MI.” Whether you use MI or not, this active ingredient can be repackaged to suit your own approach.

So how do you get the individual to state their own reasons for change? Listen carefully for a reason, then reflect that reason back to them in your own words, encouraging them to continue talking about it. Here is a simple example:

Friend: “I guess if I stop coming to the casino so often, I could take better care of my elderly mother.”
You: “It looks like your mother means a lot to you…”
Friend: “Yeah… she was always there for me, so I really want to be there for her.”

Whatever you reflect, you will hear more of. Therefore, reflecting change talk, gets you more change talk. Note that this also works in reverse. If you are not selective in your reflections, you many be encouraging more counter-change talk, keeping the person entrenched in past behaviors.

To unlock the key to change, keep your ears on alert for change talk, then focus your reflections, encouraging the other person to continue talking about their own reasons for change.

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