Photo by Harli Marten / Unsplash

Changing Minds Through Motivational Interviewing

Extending Empathy This Pride Month

Sam Chavez
Sam Chavez

Table of Contents

๐ŸŒˆ Happy Pride Month! ๐ŸŒˆ

As we kick off a month of rainbow flags and Love Is Love salutes from major corporations (itโ€™s called rainbow washing), this month is also a reminder that the LGBTQ+ community still has a ways to go.

Even those in the community who live a privileged life, like myself, face homophobia from unexpected corners. Homophobia can come in many different forms. It can be as extreme as actual violence or as subtle as a cold, dismissive attitude towards a member of the LGBTQ+ community. And itโ€™s even possible to be homophobic by not calling out or dismissing homophobic behavior (the same thing is true for not acknowledging the BLM movement).

There are many causes of homophobia including religious beliefs, but the most dominant is the cultural and institutional forces that dictate our society. We live in a patriarchal society. For many, homosexuality is a direct assault on those institutions. LGBTQ+ people donโ€™t always follow clear-cut gender roles and so they are challenging the systems that dictate how a man and woman should behave. But the sad thing is, as with most bigotry, homophobia hurts everyone. It means children canโ€™t grow and explore things they love if they fall out of their traditional gender roles (dolls for boys and spaceships for girls. Space is just cool!), it impacts same-sex friendships, and it limits peopleโ€™s free expression of themselves.

And that pernicious fear and phobia bring us to our topic today: Motivational Interviewing!

If you are reading this, I assume you are at least socially liberal and want to see all people treated fairly. Maybe you even want to actively help make that change in society. But how do we do that when so much is polarized and everyone has retreated into their own camps? (hmm I wonder where Iโ€™m going with thisโ€ฆ)

What is Motivational Interviewing?

Motivational interviewing is a more profound method of communicating that involves deeper conversations, a lot of listening, and reflection. In the political world, itโ€™s a deeper form of canvassing. Motivational interviewing is just one powerful tool in the deep canvassing toolbelt. The idea is to elicit emotionally significant experiences and encourage reflection from the person who is set in their views to influence change.

Why Motivational Interviewing?

It actually works! The goal is to elicit behavioral change, which is not as easy as weโ€™d all like. Have you ever tried to scare, blame, reason, or rant to change someoneโ€™s mind? Howโ€™d it work out for you? Probably not great.

The reason for that is because itโ€™s usually a one-way conversation. Itโ€™s telling them how they should feel. As my good friend Isaac Newton said, โ€œto any action, there is always an opposite and equal reaction.โ€ That type of one-way communication usually puts people on the defensive, they lock up and are harder to change.

But motivational interviewing is less about talking and more about listening. When the Journal of Science evaluated an effort to reduce transphobia in South Florida, they found the very first case that actually reduced prejudice (the first-ever!)in a measurable and long-lasting way. And all they did was talk to people for 10 minutes! Check out the report, it is truly fascinating.

โ€œWhat weโ€™ve learned โ€ฆ is that a broad swath of voters are actually open to changing their mind. And thatโ€™s exciting, because it offers the possibility that we could get past the current paralysis on a wide variety of controversial issues.โ€ - David Fleischer

Principles of Motivational Interviewing

All of that is well and good, but how do you actually do this, you say? Luckily, the minds around motivational interviewing (itโ€™s been around for 30 years!) have some handy acronyms for easy instructions.

Download our White Paper here!

First up is how you can come to the table. As weโ€™ve established, people are smart, they know when theyโ€™re being pandered to or judged. They will lock up and ignore your views if they feel threatened; this is called the backfire effect.

For motivational interviewing to really work, you need to show up in a compassionate and open way. Itโ€™s about seeing the other person as a collaborator, not a nemesis. We are, after all, asking that they join us in the fight against homophobia. Itโ€™s about seeing the personโ€™s absolute worth and feeling empathy for their thoughts and feelings. And finally, evocation is about truly listening and using their wisdom to draw out how this issue helps serve their values (not the other way around).

Download our White Paper here!

Putting that empathy into practice is much easier with the four-step process to Engage, Focus, Evoke, and Plan. Before even discussing the issue yourself, you want to engage with the person to establish a partnership with them and understand their values. Thatโ€™s where the OARS or core skills of motivational interviewing come in. You should ask Open-ended questions to get a sense of the person. Using the wโ€™s (who, what, where, why, and how) will help to facilitate dialogue.

You can also share affirmations about the person to loosen things up. Itโ€™s impossible to agree with someone on everything, but even the most different people can find some common ground. Take Ted Cruz. He and I could not be more different, but I bet he likes some good Tex Mex now and again, just like me. Finding common ground only builds the bond of partnership more.

Download our White Paper here!

The next stage is about focusing the conversation and having a clear agenda. When talking about serious issues like this with voters, itโ€™s easy to go off track, so having a clear set of questions and topics you want to hear about is important.

Now we get to the sweet spot of motivational interviewing. Once youโ€™ve established an agenda, you want to evoke those reasons that would help them change. We do that through reflective listening. This is where the empathy part is really important. Reflective listening is not only listening to what they say but also what they implied. Itโ€™s taking their words and paraphrasing them back to them to help build support for your cause. The key to reflective listening is to remove your judgment to find common ground. Using that common ground you can begin to summarize the conversation and build a plan of action. Thatโ€™s called getting your foot in the door, have them commit to or agree to a small piece and it will only make it easier to say yes to the larger issue.

It may seem scary, but with these tools, we can have deeper and more effective conversations with people we donโ€™t always agree with. Need proof? Just watch this heartwarming 15-minute video of this Tedx Talk about motivational interviewing. Stay for the precious man who meets a queer person for the first time and watch his mind change. โค๏ธ

If youโ€™re interested in learning more about motivational interviewing, Swing Left San Francisco is hosting two incredible speakers for our monthly general meeting on Tuesday, June 15th to discuss crucial conversations. Register for the online event here!

For my fellow gays and really everyone, remember that you are loved and you are enough. Happy Pride!

๐Ÿ‘ท๐Ÿฝโ€โ™€๏ธ Organizing & Movements๐Ÿ‘จโ€๐Ÿ‘ฉโ€๐Ÿ‘งโ€๐Ÿ‘ฆ for activists & heart-first humans ๐ŸŒฑ๐Ÿ—ผ๐Ÿ—ž: Newsletter๐Ÿณ๏ธโ€๐ŸŒˆ Queering Life

Sam Chavez

Sam is a writer, strategist, and curious human. She founded the roots of change agency in 2020. Sam is a queer, white, LatinX activist whoโ€™s passionate about a livable planet & equitable societies.


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