This week, I’ve been out in my raspberry patch, picking delicious berries. All this hunting for the ripe berries has me thinking about the importance of timing. In conversations about change, timing is essential. The moments at which a better listener (you!) chooses to use a strategic question, reflection statement, or affirmation – not too early and not too late – can mean the conversation either stops in its tracks or moves forward with momentum.
Motivational Interviewing (MI) teaches us how to listen for “change talk” – the reasons a person wants to make a change in their life – even when the change talk is hidden among the thickest leaves. Training in Motivational Interviewing is not only focused on techniques – it is also focused on the timing of those techniques, in order to to build client motivation and move clients more quickly toward positive behavior change. The pace and timing of the techniques contribute to a successful outcome.
Want to know 2 tips for perfecting the timing in your conversations?
When training in Motivational Interviewing, there are two common areas of challenge when it comes to the timing of our conversations.
1. Stay in the moment. Be present. Try to avoid the temptation to think about what you are going to say next, and listen to what is being said right now.
Easier said than done, right? Most of us know from experience the detriment of not being present in the moment. Helpers who stay “in the moment” and listen well to their clients can pace conversations according to their intuition and experience. Some helpers use breathing or other mindfulness techniques to help themselves remain fully present in their conversation. They’ve observed the correct shade of red for this particular raspberry variety and they’ve tasted enough less-sweet moments to know when they hear something sweet.
2. Move into planning only when the person is ready. Try to avoid plowing into planning too quickly.
It’s very common to want to jump into planning when we are the helper. We can easily see what the person should do; how about we just go ahead and suggest our great idea for a next step?
Remember, we want the motivation level to be HIGH and we want the person to be good & ready before we move into the planning phase (or “planning process”). Listen for readiness and commitment language before jumping into a planning discussion. If the person is talking a lot about commitment to change and starts suggesting taking small steps, you can sense it is time to move into planning. You might even notice, after evoking change talk and building motivation, that the person pauses and thinks deeply about actually moving toward a plan.
Practicing – and sometimes receiving coaching along the way – can help immensely with your sense of the timing and pace of a conversation. Remembering the two tips listed above may help. When you get it right, seeing a client make a positive, lasting behavior change can be even sweeter than the ripest berry.
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