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There’s a quote attributed to Dick Cavet that says “It’s the rare person who wants to hear what they don’t want to hear.”

So the question I ask myself is, how do you get people who don’t want to hear, to hear?

* How do you get the coaching client to want to hear that a different style of leadership might be beneficial?

* How do you get the direct report who insists on doing a task inefficiently to want to hear about a different way?

* How do you get the roommate who continually leaves a clutter of dirty clothes and dishes throughout the house to change their habits?

We know, both from research and anecdotally, what DOES NOT work! It’s very human to want to lead with one of three things, but these don’t work so well:

  1. Criticism
  2. Logic, or
  3. Consequences

Let’s play with an example of the messy roommate. The less effective method of criticism, logic, and consequences sounds like this:

  • Criticism—You’re a sloppy pig!
  • Logic—You’ll always be assured of having clean dishes or clothes readily available if you use a better system.
  • Consequences—You’re going to lose me as a roommate!

None of those approaches are likely to get us anywhere!

What DOES work is a technique called Motivational Interviewing.

It’s been used successfully in weight loss, it’s been effective in changing opinions on topics like immunizations and racial bias, and, in several studies, the Motivational Interviewing method significantly reduced alcohol consumption in college students.

So how does it work? Three steps–all of which are a very coach-approach!

1. Curiosity

2. Listening

3. And Acknowledgments

Using the “messy roommate” situation:

Step 1 – Curiosity

Curiosity involves asking open-ended questions: What are your thoughts about the dinner dishes being left in the den? What situations or circumstances might there be where this system of leaving dirty dishes has some drawbacks? What would you consider as potential benefits to getting them into the kitchen after eating?

Step 2 – Listen

Here you’re listening for clues that lean toward the person’s desired future state. In this example, it might be that you hear, “it would be nice if I could find my favorite shirt more quickly” or “it would be nice not to find ants getting into my four-day-old dessert plate.”

Step 3 – Acknowledge

You’ll want to acknowledge or affirm two things: the person’s desire for what they want, AND the person’s ability to change. In this case, the desired future would be “having a more efficient process to find your favorite shirts and not having to spray Raid inside the house to kill the ants.” Then, acknowledge the person’s strengths or past successes or resilience that points to their ability to make future changes. Sometimes this question works well: “What gives you confidence that you can make this happen?”

The caveat in all of this? You, me, every one of us also has to be ready to hear what WE don’t want to hear. We have to be ready to change our minds, as well. There should be more openness in both directions in this kind of process. Who knows! Maybe you can live with a dirty shirt left on the floor on occasion, eh? (But I’d draw the line on the ants).

Have fun experimenting with this!