Motivational Interviewing: Asking for Permission- Hillary Bolter of Bolter Consulting

Sometimes I forget that I can’t make other people change.

But I do know that when I forget that I don’t have the power to make other people change, I actually make it harder for them to change.


Because when I forget that I can’t make other people change, I fall into persuading, convincing, information giving, pleading, & arguing for the change. And what they inevitably do is argue against change. 

My dang efforts to help backfire.

So what can we do? (Because we do care so very much and want to support them in change!)

Ask-Offer-Ask (It’s a little formula!)

  1. ASK first. Can you  get curious first about their thoughts before trying to impart yours? Respect their experience, wisdom, values, input, and motivations for change. When we ask first, we are relaying our respect for these things! Ask: “What are your thoughts on this?” “What concerns do you have about ____?” “What do you already know about ____?” 
  2. OFFER information. But ask permission first! What is implicit in asking permission is that you value them as a person and respect their autonomy. Asking permission gives them control and input into the conversation. When they feel like they don’t have control, then the fight becomes about asserting their autonomy and freedom, not about the target for change anymore. So when you OFFER information, advice or opinion, ask if they’d like it first. “Would it be OK if I shared a concern?” “ I have some information for you, if you’d like it?” “I’d love to talk with you about____, but only if you are open to it.” 
  3. ASK. Yes, check back in with them about what you just offered. Again, the underlying message here is about their autonomy. “What did you make of [that thing you just offered]?” “How does it fit or not fit for them?” “What thoughts do you have about this?”

We are not in control of other peoples change, and in releasing the pressure to try to convince someone, we are allowing them to regain their sense of autonomy, and possibly explore their motivations for change!

Motivational Interviewing Tip of the Week: I invite you to play around with this Ask-Offer-Ask formula. Can you remember to elicit from them first, before offering information? Ask permission before offering that information! And then, check back with them to see what they make of that information! Let me know how it goes!

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