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What on Earth is Motivational Interviewing?

VOICES Motivational Interviewing

By Steven Talbot, Learning and Development Consultant, Steven Talbot Consultancy


Ambivalence, oh my – just the word, it can be a real downer.  What does it actually mean?  There’s no doubt in my mind that we’ve all of us looked at the alarm clock (at the allotted ungodly hour for work) and listened to that inner voice that said, ‘nah…’ and wanted you to turn over and go back to sleep.  Then that **other** little voice in your head went, ‘you need to go to work,’ ’you can’t sleep the day away,’ ‘up and at ‘em!’  ‘Get up!  Get up!  GET UP!’  And we rolled out of bed, ate our breakfast, drank our coffee, stood under the shower and shook off voice number one that wanted us to just give up and stay in the warm, cosy bed.  It’s ambivalence that keeps many people from making positive changes in their lives.

Greetings one and all, I’m learning and development consultant Steven Talbot and you’re reading my article about Motivational Interviewing. Now, I may have already bored you to tears, you’ve managed to get this far and then thought, ‘there are things I could be doing, like swilling a mug, buying a book, watching Netflix or feeding a cat,’ anything but read Steven’s missives, however bear with me on this one, because I’ve got something rather interesting to share with you.

I work around the country and in cities large and small I can see services stretched to the very limit, barely able to cope with the demands of their service users.  I see people sleeping on the streets and when asked by professionals in homeless services, ‘do you want a bed in a hostel?’ The person living on the street says, ‘nah, you’re all right, I’ll be fine’ and sometimes the worker wanders away, no doubt looking for the next person who may say, ‘yes, I’ll have a place please.’  What the support worker is failing to do (and this is pretty common) is explore the ambivalence springing from the customer.  What’s the reason they don’t want to enter a shelter?  How come living on the streets is ‘okay’ and they’re ‘fine thanks.’  What can the support worker do better?

So, what on earth is Motivational Interviewing?  (or as I’ll refer to it from now on, the much shorter abbreviation of MI.) MI is a method that works on facilitating and engaging intrinsic motivation within the customer, in order for them to think about and change their behaviour.  It’s something that I’ve been utilising for many years and it totally changed the way that I worked with customers and clients.

Time and again customers are besieged with question after question, interrogated, made to feel like they are not autonomous, that everything needs doing for them, because after all, they got themselves in this mess and now the professionals (who know everything) should step in and make it all better.  When in actual fact, everyone we are dealing with is an expert in his or her own life. What we need to do is create an atmosphere with our customer whereby they can explore and understand their own decision making.  They can work with a trained professional who has the required skills to hold up a mirror to the customer and explore with them the choices that they have made or intend to make.  When the worker is non-confrontational and non-adversarial the customer can then face up to their issues and start to overcome their ambivalence.


 “I mostly listened with accurate empathy.  There was an immediate chemistry, I loved talking to them, and they seemed to enjoy taking to me.”

Stephen R Covey


You know in reality, when we give people, time and space to think through their actions, they are far more likely to make positive decisions for themselves and their families.  MI gives you the skills to explore life with your customer and equip them with the skills to make these changes.  At no point do you dictate and demand things from your customer, instead we are collaborating with the customer to ensure they overcome their feelings of ambivalence and embrace a more positive and engaging life.  And of course on eof the benefits for our cash strapped services is this stops the revolving door of the same customers coming back again and again, instead we have prepared them for life and the perils and pitfalls that lie ahead.  We’re still here for them, it’s just now, they are far more likely to attempt to do more for themselves and succeed.

The two-day course that I have been delivering for VOICES has received 100% positive feedback with the oft quoted, ‘inspirational’ word being flung at me, and I’m happy to take it!  I’ll teach you the skills to interact with a range of people.  You’ll learn how to roll with resistance and shrewdly engage with customers, using and reflecting their language to discover how the customer is going to embrace the changes.

Praise be – there’s zero role play! (always a winner) and a huge amount of hands on, kinaesthetic development activities to embed the learning.  If it is that you are ambivalent about attending the course, listen to that positive voice in your head.  Ignore the nagging, irritated voice worried about the time involved, instead focus on the optimistic, all-encompassing, confident voice that imagines two days of laughter, entertainment, education and a positive learning environment.


“The more the client talks about change, the more likely they are to embark on this change.”

Melinda Hohman

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