What We Can Learn from Great Motivational Interviewing Examples

In this great motivational interviewing example, we learn how MI can encourage change talk and resolve ambivalence.

We’ve explored the “what” of Motivational Interviewing in previous Ripples and how this technique offers a helpful structure to engage, support, and guide conversations with served persons. But what can we learn from motivational interviewing example questions?


The best way to really understand and develop skill in MI is to practice and watch how it helps set the stage for natural, organic, and empowering conversations. Of course, all conversations are unique, so it’s hard to predict the turns and nuances that any given conversation might take. That said, when we view examples of questions in conversations, we can start to get a feel for the spirit of MI and why it’s such a powerful tool for resolving ambivalence and helping inspire action.


Where is Motivational Interviewing Used?

Motivational Interviewing examples can be found in a variety of fields and as it can be employed in many settings to connect with served persons. Examples include workforce development, criminal justice, healthcare, education, and counseling. Fun fact: MI is used by nonclinical providers (teachers, case managers, youth mentors, employment specialists and on) as well as clinical providers.


As we’ve explored before, the main goal of MI is rapidly building a rapport between the direct service professional and the served person. It begins with engagement and helps create productive conversations that are effective and time-efficient.


Anyone who has worked in service-based fields knows that discussions about sensitive and complex topics can present a challenge. Often, the conversations about change are personal, emotional, and may even feel awkward or uncomfortable for both parties. This is why being trauma-informed and culturally reverent in conversations is so critical.  This is why when we share MI with those we share with, a.k.a. “train”—we demonstrate and practice how MI is a trauma-informed, culturally reverent conversational style.


The primary way that MI works is it resolves the person’s feeling two ways about changing a behavior or making a decision. This is ambivalence. People build walls and act as though they’re indifferent to the topic—not because they genuinely don’t care, but because they’re feeling discomfort. Demonstrating that we are a safe and accepting service provider helps cut through the walls of discomfort and allows us to begin to draw out (Evoke) the reasons for change (“change talk”) from the served person – from their perspective. This helps us avoid “fixing” and judgment—which, as you likely know—does not support the person to feel safe sharing with us!


The Motivational Interview helps build a rapport that can guide the conversation, motivating, supporting, and energizing the served person to help them move toward positive, healthy behaviors. Examples of healthy behaviors may include the following: maintaining conditions of probation, following through on treatment plans, applying for employment, healing trauma, and many other beneficial steps.


When you start to understand the “what” behind motivational interviewing, you can quickly connect the dots to the “why.” It’s a philosophy that empowers the people you serve and honors their individual journeys. And as we’ve mentioned, it’s a culturally reverent approach to service that’s become an accepted part of offering trauma-informed care.


Through Motivational Interviewing, the interviewer becomes a facilitator or guide. They hold space for people during points of change and transition, helping them discover inner resilience, strengths, and a desire to change. The Guide supports served persons uncover their resources, both internally and externally, and learn how change can come from within. This is how we empower!


How to Evoke During an MI Conversation

After exploring the what, let’s delve into the how. As we look at Motivational Interviewing examples, we’ll often see examples of evoking, which is a critical component of the MI process. It is in fact MI’s secret sauce – what makes it MI versus any other active listening approach.


After identifying the focus on the conversation (a target behavior—getting clean, going to school, attending meetings, med compliance, and on), a series of evocative questions will help uncover the served person’s desires, abilities, reasons, and needs.


What are some examples of evocative questions in Motivational Interviewing? In a handout we share during our MI training sessions, here are a sampling of the Motivational Interviewing example questions that are designed to Evoke change talk:


  • What makes you want to make this change? (Desire)
  • How confident are you that you could take this on? (Ability)
  • What are three of the best reasons for you to do it? (Reasons)
  • How important is it that you make this change? (Need)


From these questions will come many answers and information that can be further explored or elaborated on. It’s best to use open-ended questions that reflect a genuine curiosity and interest in what the person is sharing. Humans are naturally curious creatures, so the change talk will often start to flow. “Tell me more about that…” can be an appropriate segue that can help open the conversation and encourage the served person to continue sharing.


Encouraging Change Talk

The key of MI is to draw out the person’s change talk. Change talk energizes folks to work through their ambivalence and move forward with healthy, positive change in their lives. In our experience, supporting the person voicing their change talk from their perspective is most effective. Simply talking to oneself in the mirror or using positive self-talk can be helpful, but there’s something more energizing about sharing with another, accepting (nonjudgmental) human being.


In the video below, we explore what we can learn from Motivational Interviewing examples we’ve experienced in our own lives—how “change talk” is critical in working through ambivalence and uncertainty, creating the necessary impetus for moving forward.


A Share Collaborative Conversation: Change Talk



During Motivational Interviewing, the interviewer can encourage change talk by the served person by holding a positive space for them—truly listening, engaging, and building rapport. Once the sharing and engaging begin, the conversation is furthered by asking for examples. An interviewer may help the served person examine the last time they were successful and a similar endeavor. They may also encourage them to look back at a time before they faced the current concern. How were things better in their lives or different?


After looking back, take a look forward. The Motivational Interviewer may ask questions like, “If you’re successful with these changes, what will be different in your life? Let’s imagine life in a month or even a year after you’ve made this change.”


Look at the extremes, too—what are the worst things that could happen if the served person doesn’t make the change they’re working on? Conversely, what are the best things that could occur if they make this change? Working through these various scenarios can add value to the goal and help to encourage that crucial change talk.


In change talk, it may be helpful to use different change rulers and measurements. Quantifying the importance of the target behavior can help solidify the significance and magnitude of the change. Again, it’s another way of working through the feelings of ambivalence and overwhelm that can accompany a significant life change. Change is challenging and even frightening at times. It requires motivation to push ourselves toward action.


Use change rulers like, “on a scale of zero to ten, how important is it to you change your behavior?” This helps the served person put a number to their feelings. You can follow up with why are you at this number (and not at zero)? What might happen if you moved to an even higher score? Using the same scale, how confident are they that they can change their behavior?


From there, explore the goals and values behind the change. For example, what does the person want in life? Does this change help them realize their goal, or does the change interfere with it? This helps them identify ways that their goal will align with the things most important to them.


At the end of the day, each of us wants to be understood, seen, heard, and valued. When we connect and empathize with this shared part of our humanity, we can hold space for others. Many of us work in service roles because we value others already and have a desire to support, help, and understand. When we focus on these feelings, we can evoke real positive change for all.


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