Motivational Interviewing as a Tool for Change

Motivational Interviewing as a Tool for Change

motivation change
motivation change

At Yeske Buie, we understand that change is hard. We have all experienced the desire to make a change in our lives, whether the change involves discarding a bad habit, acquiring a new skill, or making a big life transition. Every day, Clients come to us seeking our advice; however, acting on that advice is easier said than done. To inspire motivation that leads our Clients to take action, we lean on an empathetic process known as motivational interviewing.

At its core, this technique facilitates conversation in an intentional way. By inviting open dialogue about values and goals, motivational interviewing can help you gain clarity on your present situation while creating realistic pathways toward desired outcomes. In this space, we answer the questions:

  • What is motivational interviewing, and why does it work?
  • What are the benefits of motivational interviewing in financial planning?
  • How does motivational interviewing strengthen relationships and build trust?
What is motivational interviewing, and why does it work?

Motivational interviewing is a collaborative conversation style for strengthening a person’s motivation and commitment for change. It is characterized by four specific skills – open-ended questions, affirmation, reflection, and summarization – each of which is an important element of an empathetic approach to conversation. Successful motivational interviewing requires patience, compassion, and acceptance as you explore a person’s own reasons to make a particular change.

There are two main reasons for the success of motivational interviewing in the financial planning process. The first is that human beings are resistant to change. In 1975, a notable Stanford psychological study concluded, “Once formed, impressions are remarkably perseverant.” The researchers added, “Even after the evidence for their beliefs has been totally refuted, people fail to make appropriate revisions in those beliefs.” What this says is that you will be hard-pressed to convince every person to accept your arguments solely based on the strength of logic alone. The motivation to change one’s mind must come from within.

“People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the minds of others.”– Blaise Pascal
“Arguments in favor of change increase resistance, which then reduces the likelihood that any change will occur.”
– David B. Rosengren

The second benefit of motivational interviewing is that it alters your approach to conversation. In a debate, when you make the case for one course of action, the natural response is to defend the opposite position. Rather than fighting with others to take your side through brute force, you should strive to support them in choosing their own path. When approached with compassion and empathy, people feel heard and understood. This builds trust and commitment, leading people to express interest in your thoughts and ideas.

What are the benefits of motivational interviewing in financial planning?

Motivational interviewing takes root in two separate stages of the financial planning process. The first is during the initial discovery process. As we get to know our Clients, we strive to establish a productive working relationship through careful listening. Our goal in these first few meetings is to understand and accurately reflect our Clients’ experiences and perspectives while affirming their strengths and supporting their autonomy. As we define the scope of engagement, we involve Clients in identifying a shared purpose for the relationship. This gives us permission to transition into conversations about change.

In the later stages of the financial planning process, motivational interviewing can help our Clients feel motivated to take action on specific recommendations. As we discuss a Client’s current and potential alternative courses of action, we help the Client define their own “why” by eliciting their own ideas and motivations. At this juncture we pay close attention to a Client’s “change talk” and rely on what we know about their values, goals, and perspectives. Then, as we move forward together, we are determined to support our Clients in committing to change and developing a plan based on the Client’s own insights and expertise. Throughout the process, we are careful not to rely on our own knowledge; instead, it is important to supply Clients with confidence that their own experiences have prepared them for change.

We’ve previously shared the concept of SMART goals, an emotion-focused approach to goal setting that might surprise you.

How does motivational interviewing strengthen relationships and build trust?

Research has shown that motivational interviewing is effective in many circumstances, including managing physical health conditions, driving better financial outcomes, and even defusing political polarization. While this technique is often utilized in a clinical setting by counselors and therapists, the core tenets – empathy, curiosity, affirmation, and active listening – are valuable in any setting. By practicing the techniques of motivational interviewing, you are supporting self-efficacy in others, thus removing the emphasis from yourself and creating a collaborative environment for problem-solving.

Regardless of context, the intent of motivational interviewing is not to create an opportunity to steer others toward your desired outcome. Rather, motivational interviewing is the framework for finding common ground, creating a shared vision for the future, and aligning one’s values and priorities in ways that lead to change. When introduced into a situation where change is desired but difficult, it improves outcomes and deepens the trust between both parties.

Motivational interviewing is a powerful tool to help Clients get “unstuck” and is something every financial advisor should have in their back pocket. Yeske Buie’s skill in this area is just one of the reasons we believe we’re a top choice for financial planners in San Francisco, Northern Virginia, and across the country. To learn more about motivational interviewing, we recommend reading Motivational Interviewing: Helping People Change by William Miller and Stephen Rollnick and visiting the MINT: Excellence in Motivational Interviewing website at