Suspending Advice

flower_blog_9230If you could be a fly on the wall, what would you like to hear your client reveal to their friends about your session with them?

Do you want to be seen as helpful and empathetic or someone who was trying to fix their situation?

Recently I gave a brief 1-hour Motivational Interviewing (MI) workshop for physicians at their weekly meeting for research and learning.

Following the workshop, a few of the physicians asked “what is it in us as physicians that we feel compelled to try to fix others?”

Perhaps the real question is “what is it in us as human beings that we think we have the ability to find solutions for another’s problems?


Interesting enough, research shows that is it is NOT information that leads to behavior change, but rather one’s own internal motivation and the importance of the change in one’s life.

That’s where MI sheds light on how to have a conversation to pull from one’s own internal motivation.

Using the tools of MI involves being willing to suspend the need to use your own expertise until is it called upon.

Without understanding your client’s perspective, we can quickly say what should be done, assuming there is a deficit or barrier rather than one’s own internal wisdom.

We often get into a pattern of:

  • “Clearly you don’t know how to do this, so here’s some suggestions”
  • “Have you tried this solution or why haven’t you tried XYZ?”

It may be human nature to assume one’s lack of knowledge and better judgment, but it’s also human nature to suspend judgment and come alongside our fellow man to transcend it.

What does an approach with MI look like?

  • “How can I how can I be helpful to you today?”
  • “What would you like things to look like after our session?”
  • “If you were to make this change, how would that change your life?”

Being curious, showing delight, interest and a shared purpose may be the start of stopping the “righting reflux” as referred to in MI.

The paradox of change is that when a person feels accepted for who they are and what they do – no matter how unhealthy – it allows them the freedom to consider change rather than needing to defend against it.

The most important part is when your client realizes the answer lies inside them and you were able to assist with helping them realize it.

So if you ever get to be a fly on the wall, how satisfying it will be to hear your client share how your empathy and reflective listening was life changing for them…without ever needing to give one piece of advice.