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What is Motivational Interviewing?

Motivational interviewing (MI) is an evidence-based approach commonly used in counseling, coaching and other therapeutic settings to facilitate positive behavior change.

“MI is a collaborative, goal-oriented style of communication with particular attention to the language of change. It is designed to strengthen personal motivation for and commitment to a specific goal by eliciting and exploring the person’s own reasons for change within an atmosphere of acceptance and compassion.” (Miller & Rollnick, 2013, p. 29).

Motivational Interviewing is a guiding style of communication that lies between following (good listening) and directing (giving advice). It uses respect and curiosity to empower and motivate individuals to change while honoring their autonomy.

The key principles of the spirit of motivational interviewing include:

  1. Partnership. MI is a collaborative process. The MI practitioner is an expert in helping people change and people are the experts of their own lives.

  2. Evocation. People have within themselves resources and skills needed for change. MI draws out the person’s priorities, values and wisdom to explore reasons for change and support success.

  3. Acceptance. The MI practitioner takes a nonjudgmental stance, seeks to understand the person’s perspectives and experiences, expresses empathy, highlights strengths and respects a person’s right to make informed choices about changing or not changing.

  4. Compassion. The MI practitioner actively promotes and prioritizes clients’ welfare and wellbeing in a selfless manner.

By employing these principles, motivational interviewing uses specific skills to help individuals explore their ambivalence about change, build self-efficacy, clarify their goals and ultimately strengthen their commitment to taking action. A primary skill in Motivational Interviewing is reflective listening. Reflective listening is a communication technique that involves actively listening and then responding by restating, paraphrasing or adding meaning to what was said to demonstrate understanding and empathy. It is a method commonly used in counseling, therapy, and conflict resolution, as well as everyday conversations to improve communication and build stronger relationships.

The goal of reflective listening is to create an atmosphere of trust, respect, and understanding between the listener and the speaker. By reflecting back the speaker's words and feelings, the listener shows that they are fully engaged and genuinely interested in what the speaker is saying.

In Motivational Interviewing, reflective listening or reflections are used in specific ways to engage, affirm strengths and efforts, find a focus or goal, evoke reasons and benefits for change and develop a plan.

Here are some key components involved in reflective listening:

  1. Paying Attention: The listener must focus on the speaker, giving their undivided attention. This means minimizing distractions and actively listening without interrupting or formulating responses in their mind.

  2. Empathy and Understanding: Reflective listening aims to understand the speaker's perspective and emotions. It involves putting oneself in the speaker's shoes and trying to see the situation from their point of view. This helps the listener develop empathy and respond accordingly.

  3. Paraphrasing: After the speaker has finished expressing their thoughts or feelings, the listener paraphrases or restates the content in their own words and can take a best guess as to what the speaker means and add meaning. This step demonstrates that the listener has been actively listening and understands the speaker's message.

  4. Validation and Clarification: Reflective listening also involves seeking clarification and confirming the accuracy of the listener's understanding with curiosity and respect. This can be done by asking open-ended questions, summarizing what was said or making statements like, "It sounds like you're saying..."

Using open ended questions, affirmations, summaries and attending to the language of change, reflective listening and reflections are a core skill of Motivational Interviewing. By practicing reflective listening, both parties involved in a conversation can feel heard, respected, and understood.

Sibly coaches are trained in Motivational Interviewing to help our members make positive behavior change, manage their emotions and build resilience.

For more information on how Sibly can help your organization, reach out to us at or click here.

Cindy Eaton is Vice President of Coaching at Sibly. You can connect with her here.



Miller, W.R. & T.B. Moyers (2017) Motivational Interviewing and the clinical science of Carl Rogers. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 85(8), 757-766

Miller, W.R. & Rollnick, S. (2013) Motivational Interviewing: Helping people to change (3rd Edition). Guilford Press.

Miller & Rollnick (2017) Ten things MI is not Miller, W.R. & Rollnick, S. (2009) Ten things that MI is not. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 37, 129-140.


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