Using Motivational Interviewing In Service Jobs

How do you help people do things they want to do but aren’t yet doing? 

Any “services” job is in the business of creating perceived value through actions.

If you create more value than you cost, or at least the perception of it, you have a successful services-based practice. 

But there’s this weird gap every services job faces over and over again: someone who would benefit from what you offer, but is struggling to take the last step – even when they say they want to.

Enter the behavioral psychology of motivational interviewing

I read Bill Matulich, PhD’s ebook, How to Do Motivational Interviewing before I started sharing these notes. I realized the other day this has left a gap because I don’t have a single reference point for a body of work I think about almost every day. So here’s a start.

One of the most practical motivational interviewing concepts you can start using today is scaling questions. I use this all of the time in my own professional work at Sunpointe.

The beauty of motivational interviewing is you are asking questions to help motivate someone to take a course of action. It’s a more indirect version of advice, where the focus is on asking productive questions. The technique works best when a person recognizes they want to take some new course of action, but is struggling with starting or ratcheting up the progress. 

Here’s an exaggerated example – somebody wants to lose weight and can’t start. You know that they know they could start with a healthier diet and occasional walk, but they need a nudge. You stuff your advice monster back under the bed and shift to productive questioning like this:  

On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being awful and 10 being amazing, how healthy were you yesterday?

Ugh. 2? I’ve done worse, but I need to do something. With less Oreos. 

It’s OK, that’s why we’re talking this out, right? So tomorrow, on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being impossible and 10 being easy, what would take you from 2 to say, 4 or 5? Besides Oreos?  

I can skip the Oreos, there aren’t any left anyway. OK – so I’m definitely not skipping breakfast or doing any crazy diet stuff this time. But I guess I could make breakfast yogurt instead of Dunkin’. I bought some midweek but who wants yogurt when, yeah.  

Agreed. And you know what? Not dessert to start the day probably gets you to a solid 5, right?

Does it? I guess, I mean if I did that for a week it’s a pretty big difference already. Ok, so tomorrow, I’ll do yogurt instead of a donut and how about if I do it for the week then I’ll be at 5. 

Good. 5 would be great – and up from 2, that fast? Awesome. Want me to call and check? Or want to call me and report? I can be available to slap munchkins out of your hand if you need me to, don’t think I won’t…

Ha, maybe. 

Just to 5. Just on food. Might be 6 if you add a walk too, I’m just saying. Don’t stress beyond that. But bigger picture, just curiously, if you do 5 or 6 this week, up from 2, what’s – long term – 10 look like? What’s the dream goal here? 

10? I’m not messing around anymore and I feel better. Probably because I’m making progress and also because it’s this stress, you know? I shouldn’t do this, I need to stop, but it’s f’in hard, you know? 

Look closely at what’s going on here. 

The interviewer is simply asking the interviewee for what matters and how to measure it. With a little encouraging input, but only to clarify. 

The scaling allows us to create a productive progression. Asking for specific times and circumstances at each point gives us a scale to mark progress by. Self-labeling makes sure the idea is clear. 

There’s a million more lessons in Matulich’s work. If this resonates at all, check out his book, it’s so relevant for anyone in the service business.

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