Motivational communication is a well-known concept in the helping professions. It applies the principles of reflective listening but is specifically aimed at increasing the motivation of someone to commit to change. Anyone who aims to assist someone else to make positive changes should apply the following methods to gain maximum influence. Also known as motivational interviewing, the technique is designed to facilitate change by empowering the other person to believe in him- or herself and the benefits of change.
The starting point of motivational communication is to understand the other person’s needs, desires, and lifestyle. The objective is to identify the common ground between the three aspects, thereby focusing on the area that is most appealing and achievable for the person. This represents his motivational needs. The process of positive change through motivation follows the following basic sequence:
Relationship → understanding → motivational needs → commitment → action → maintenance
According to two gurus in motivational interviewing, Prof. Stephen Rollnick and Prof. William R. Miller, four types of self-motivational statements can be identified, as follows.
- Problem recognition: The counselor may ask, “How has your behavior created problems for you”, and the client’s response that acknowledges the consequences is self-motivational, “I guess my problem is more serious than I thought.”
- Concerns: The counselor elicits a clarifying response by asking, “What are you afraid might happen if you continue with this behavior?” The client expresses concern in response, “I’m really worried about the impact that it has on my life.”
- Intention to change: The counselor may attempt to elicit a direct or implicit intention to change behavior by asking, “On a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, how important is it for you to change your behavior?” Assume that the client’s indicated a 6, ask why he or she did not indicate a lower or higher score.
- Optimism: The counselor attempts to build self-confidence in the client by asking, “What difficult goals have you achieved in the past?” Clients can also rate their confidence in their ability to change on a scale. The client may respond by saying, “I know that if I try, I can really do it.”
By using these techniques, supplemented with reflective listening skills and behaviors, the speaker reinforces the other person’s drive to take ownership and invest in positive change. In the process, the speaker should refrain from commanding, threatening, offering advice or solutions, arguing, lecturing, preaching, judging, blaming, shaming, ridiculing, or interpreting statements of the speaker. Instead, the other person should be gently guided to arrive at his or her own conclusions.
The next section introduces the concept of the continuum of readiness to change, which is a useful tool to motivate someone and gauge his/her commitment to change.