How to Help People Change
It’s “Start the New Year Right” season! We are receiving gym advertisements in the mail, hearing about people’s new year resolutions at work, and my favorite local coffee shop is even featuring a new salad called “New Year Resolution Salad”! (As if their other salads were not healthy enough before?)
Did you know that in each conversation about a new year’s resolution, you have an opportunity to either help increase, or to decrease, someone’s motivation for change? The way we listen, and the way our “better listener brain” interprets what we hear, makes a difference in how we respond. Being able to respond in a way that builds motivation requires that we first learn the road markers that indicate when someone is thinking about or getting ready to make a change in their lives.
Know What to Listen For
Here’s a quick listener quiz. Which of the following statements includes “change talk,” indicating that someone is considering making a change in their lives?
- “I’m not happy with the way things are; I wish they could be different.”
- “I’m getting too old for this.”
- “I can quit anytime I want.”
- “I signed up for a new gym membership.”
If you answered “all of the above!,” you are correct! Wait – did you think it was only 1 or 2 of the above statements? No worries – it is very common to think answer D – someone actually taking steps toward a goal – is the only one planning to make a change. Actually, all the statements above include some form of what we call “change talk (statements)” – often referred to in MI as “change talk”. Some change talk statements are stronger than others, but all the statements show that the person is considering a change in their life – to some degree. In Motivational Interviewing, it’s very important for us to be able to draw out “change talk statements” – and to do that, we must know the type of language for which we are listening.
Definition of Change Talk Statements
Change Talk (Statements):
Statements that indicate a person is oriented toward making a positive change in a behavior, thought, or attitude.
What are the markers of change talk? Motivational Interviewing (MI) trainers love acronyms, and the indicators of change talk have an acronym, if you like this type of thing. If you don’t care for acronyms, don’t worry! The important thing is that you get a sense of when you are hearing the conversation head in the direction of change.
The acronym for change talk is: “DARN CAT”
- Desire – Wanting things to be different
- Ability – A can-do attitude of optimism about the possibility of change
- Reason – Awareness of the advantages to making a change
- Need – A pressing need to make a change, awareness of what is not working
- Commitment – Includes statements like “I will” or “I plan to”
- Activation – A willingness to attempt a change
- Taking Steps – Any small steps the person has already taken toward their goal
“DARN” statements are considered “preparatory change talk,” whereas the “CAT” statements are considered “mobilizing language” (Miller & Rollnick, 2013). Both are predictors of change – the more change talk we hear (or can draw out), the more likely the person is to actually make the change.
Reflect Change Talk, or Ask for It
So, what do you do when you hear change talk statements, and you want to help someone change? You can reflect back the change talk that you hear! Re-state (using different words) the information you hear hearing. For example, from answer A above, if you hear, “I’m not happy with the way things are; I wish they could be different,” maybe you will reflect, “You want to make a change and you first have to figure out where to start.”
If you don’t think you’re hearing any change talk, you can ask for it, by saying something like, “What makes you interested about that possible change?” or, “How might life be different if you were to change that?”
Knowing to listen for DARN CAT in order to recognize change talk statements is an essential component of being able to help others change. I’m excited for you to get out and listen to people’s goals for 2020!