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Motivational Interviewing in the Workplace
Humans are fascinating, and science has a lot to offer the organizational world. Built on foundational principles of motivation, Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a must for the modern workplace. While we must acknowledge we are not therapists, we can learn a lot from what they do. Want to learn how to empower your team? Let us dive in!

What Is Motivational Interviewing?

Motivational interviewing (MI) was developed by Miller and Rollnick to support patients struggling with substance abuse disorders. Over time, however, we have discovered that MI has incredible potential for success in other areas, especially in the workplace. From performance to organizational change, MI can bring value to your company. Motivational interviewing consists of two parties: the facilitator (or counselor in clinical settings) and the employee (or patient in clinical settings). According to the authors of “Guiding Change,” the employee has several stages beginning with pre-contemplation and follow through until action has been taken. The facilitator must work with four processes: engaging, focusing, evoking and planning. Engaging focuses on actively listening and understanding the employee. Focusing assists the employee identify an area for change. Evoking helps an employee build out the area they identified for change. Planning is supporting the employee’s action items to help determine readiness for change. Both parties must be willing to participate in the process. Furthermore, facilitators mustn’t force their ideas for change onto employees. We must guide and support them in increasing their motivation for change. Understanding and support are the keys to MI.

Should HR Use Motivational Interviewing in the Workplace?

Motivational interviewing is certainly worth adding to the proverbial “tool chest” in the workplace. However, it is not a magic “fix-all.” We should assess each employee’s needs and apply the best method to support that employee. MI is especially helpful when the employee has ambivalence to change. Using MI is an excellent tool to build up and support our team. As Güntner et al. states, “humans only show sustainable, self-determined change when they see the necessity and experience the capability to change.” It is our job to assist employees in reaching their goals whenever possible.

Pros of Motivational Interviewing

  • It supports employees with organizational change. An organization’s goal is to grow. With growth comes inevitable changes. Often change brings uncertainty and conflicting opinions or ambivalence. MI is a powerful tool to bring the team together and reduce the uncertainty that comes with the many forms of organizational change.
  • We can build up our team. As facilitators in an organization, it is important to help team members get where they want to be. MI enables powerful collaboration that may leave both parties excited and energized about growth opportunities.
  • It is employee-focused. We all have goals, and having the support to grow and attain these goals is invaluable. We must do our part if we want our team to be motivated.

Cons of Motivational Interviewing

  • It is new to the organizational setting. Empirical data supporting the use of MI in the workplace is limited. As using MI in the workplace is relatively new, we still have a lot to learn.
  • It will not work for everyone. Each team member is different. As a result, they may require different methods of motivation and communication. MI is not going to work in every scenario. We must consider the individual differences among our team.
  • It’s a time investment. MI requires a significant time investment from both parties. Therefore we must carefully choose when to enact MI in the workplace. Otherwise we risk bogging ourselves down with too much work that will be ineffective.

How Does Motivational Interviewing Work?

Motivational interviewing begins with assessing the situation and employee. After deciding that MI is the correct way to go, set up the first coaching session and begin working with the employee following these necessary guidelines.

Step 1: Assess the Situation

Are you going to be working with a highly motivated employee on an organizational change? If so, consider using a different method or selectively using key aspects of MI. Remember, MI works best when we have employees who are resisting change. With the time investment required, we must use MI correctly.

Step 2: Set Up a Coaching Session

As the facilitator, you must organize the sessions for the employee. During the first session, your goal is to follow the four processes.
  1. Engage. Put your empathetic and active listening skills to good use. Narrow down the ambivalence or resistance and focus on the employee’s perspective.
  2. Focus. Guide the employee to detail areas they are concerned with.
  3. Evoke. Support the employee in working out what steps they could take to solve the issue at hand.
  4. Plan. Recap areas for change and help nail down an actionable plan.

Step 3: Allow for Time

It is important to give the employee time to enact changes. Given that there may be initial resistance to change, remain supportive and patient before setting up more sessions. The length of time between each session should be determined by employee needs. Examples are weekly, bi-weekly or monthly sessions.

Step 4: Set Up Additional Coaching Sessions

After giving employees time to enact the action plan they formulated, we must set up follow-up sessions. These sessions should expand on what the first session covered. You as the facilitator must continue to support the employee and focus on engaging their needs to increase motivation.

Tips for Effective Motivational Interviewing in the Workplace

As the facilitator of motivational interviewing, we must be invested in our team member’s growth. Our goal is to support them to reach their goals. Be willing to invest all necessary time to remain supportive. Without this, MI will struggle to be successful.

Tip 1: Listen Actively

Focus on listening and understanding what the employee is saying. Their reasons for resistance are valid, and we must understand them. Without active listening, we will not be helpful.

Tip 2: Understand That People Want to Grow

People want to grow and learn. MI is a great way to support this. Even when people are ambivalent about organizational change or improvements, we must remain supportive.

Tip 3: Adapt

MI requires that we actively adapt and change as we assist our teammates. The four processes detailed here are not a set-in-stone order. At any point in the conversation, you may need to pivot.

Tip 4: It Takes Two

MI takes two active parties. Without willingness to participate from both, we cannot facilitate change. Moreover, without an active and dedicated facilitator, team members will struggle to benefit from MI.

Tip 5: When to Give Advice

As the State of Colorado Division of Criminal Justice describes, we should only give advice when asked for it, or if we have asked for permission to give advice. We are there to facilitate change, not force it.

How to Have a Conversation Using Motivational Interviewing

Luckily for us, motivational interviewing has an established methodology for conversing. It’s the acronym OARS: open questions, affirmations, reflective listening and summaries. Let’s break this down into more detail.

Open Questions

The goal of an open question is to elicit as much information as possible. We want the employee to feel safe and comfortable sharing their story. Here are a few examples from the article “Motivational Interviewing”:
  1. Where would you like to start?
  2. How can I assist with…?
  3. Have you tried anything before?
  4. What helps you be successful with…?

Affirmations

Affirmations validate what our teammates are going through. We must promote strengths and provide understanding. “Motivational Interviewing” provides these examples:
  1. I hear you.
  2. You clearly put forth a lot of effort with …
  3. You were successful with …

Reflective Listening

We must engage in active listening to understand what our teammate is saying. We are there to support them and provide a path to success. To reflectively listen, ensure we understand what they are saying. “Motivational Interviewing” suggests using phrases like:
  1. What I heard was…
  2. You feel like…

Summaries

It is important to break down what was said during the conversation and summarize it. This allows you to ensure you have understood. Moreover, it allows teammates to correct anything they feel is wrong and help them better formulate their action plan.
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Hunter Anglemyer

Hunter Anglemyer

Hunter is a Talent Acquisition Manager who loves his job. Learning & problem solving are his true passions. Working in talent acquisition allows him to utilize his psychology background, learn about others, & help people find careers they will love.
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Frequently asked questions
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9 Box Talent Review
Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scale (BARS)
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