There are many people out there who really want to help other people change/be happier. Some of them are professionals some simply fall into the “helping role” because of their desire to be of service. Most have noble unselfish reasons for doing this. Yet the wish to help does not mean we always do it effectively. In fact, it is quite easy to actually put someone off making a change that they are uncertain about if the “helping” party behaves in a certain way.
You see, people who are “stuck” or shall we say “ambivalent” about change, generally want two things that are incompatible, or that they both want and don’t want at the same time! In comes the helper, armed with the knowledge of what is “good” for their friend/client and proceeds to push them in the “right” direction. Funny how after the well-meaning advice from the helping friend, the individual often runs in the other direction!
What is important to understand is that human nature is very complex yet one of our most basic drives is for independence/control/autonomy.. And that means, we rarely like being told what to do!! Even though we may ask someone what they think we should do! What we really want is to be able to come up with our own reasons for making a decision, based on our personal values and beliefs. We don’t want to be persuaded or convinced of what to do. So how can we help as a well-meaning outside party? Well let’s start with what doesn’t work.
The following list may seem like harmless enough approaches, yet all can prevent the listener from moving forward:
- Ordering, directing
- Giving advice, making suggestions, providing solutions
- Persuading with logic, arguing or lecturing
- Moralising or telling them what they “should” do
- Disagreeing, judging, criticising or blaming (anyone)
- Shaming, ridiculing or labeling
- Interpreting or analysing
- Reassuring, sympathising or consoling
- Withdrawing, distracting or changing the subject!
So what’s left??
Five simple things we can do that may help someone make an important decision when we accept that only they know what is important for them.
- Ask open questions (can’t be answered with one word or a grunt!)
- Listen and reflect what they have just said back to them (like a mirror but without any from the above list layering the content!
- Acknowledge their strengths
- Summarise what you hear them say
- Have compassion and give them space.
So next time we are tempted to jump in and “fix” a person’s problems, stop for a minute and ask whether what we plan to do is really useful or if there could be a different approach.
Ref: Miller and Rollnick, Motivational Interviewing 2013.