Why is it that when we sometimes try to help others by immediately telling them what to do, our advice or suggestions fall flat?
It’s natural in our relationships to see or hear someone’s problems and then try to fix them. Advice mode. It’s a mode I used to tap into frequently with my family and friends, being as health-conscious as I am. Even in my work as a physician assistant, I play the “expert role” which is common in healthcare and often necessary in that setting. But in terms of helping others make lasting behavioral changes, I’ve found that simply giving advice or unsolicited suggestions or playing the “expert” is not always what people want or need. Sure, it comes from a place of love and with the best of intentions, but as I’ve mentioned in my other posts, people often already know what they should be doing.
Motivational interviewing is just one powerful tool in the health coaching toolbelt. It’s a collaborative conversational style that allows for the exploration and discovery of a person’s values, needs, hopes, and the direction they want to go. It explores ambivalence which is the state of having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something. Like having “two minds” or feeling two ways about a behavior, people can get stuck between simultaneously wanting to change and not wanting to change. There’s an argument in the mind about wanting to change (I should stop eating fast food) and then simultaneously arguing for not changing (Fast food is convenient, tastes good, and I don’t know how to cook). Motivational interviewing accepts that ambivalence but works toward reducing it in favor of healthier behaviors. It honors autonomy and self-determination and the notion that people already have inside them pretty much everything they need to be able to move forward in their lives.
My reason for explaining all of this is not just to discuss the importance of health coaching in the future of healthcare and in battling the epidemic of chronic disease. I think it’s important to take away that when we feel that we have a platter of advice to serve someone undergoing a dilemma – when we want to demonstrate that “righting reflex” and make their situation right – sometimes the first and best thing we can do as individuals in helping someone else change for the better is to control that urge and give them a good listening to as opposed to a good talking to.
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[…] in a previous post about playing the “expert” and how this can be a roadblock in helping others change. This is sort of part II and it’s about maintaining a beginner’s mind with my clients. […]