Motivational Interviewing: Conversations Toward Change

May 23, 2022 8:00 AM | Jennifer Anonick
Blurred image of two women talking at a table in an office setting.

By Lauren Parker, NENA Director
Senior Director, The SkillSource Group, Inc.
Virginia Career Works - Northern Region

Things have been busy here at NENA as we gear up for the 12th Annual National Training Conference – our first in-person conference in two years! All this training talk has me thinking about the different professional development opportunities that have helped me over my career in workforce development and Ticket to Work. One high on my list is Motivational Interviewing (MI). Many of you have probably heard of MI. Others may be MI trainers. But if MI is new to you, you are not alone. When I first heard the term, I remember wondering if it was some new employer-preferred style of interviewing.

What is MI?

MI is a method of communication (rather than an intervention) that helps us talk to job seekers who are experiencing ambivalence. Ambivalence can sound like many things. A few examples that might sound familiar:

  • “I don’t want to depend on my benefits, but I’m scared to lose my safety net.”
  • “I know that I might need to start with an entry-level job, but I don’t want to sell myself short.”
  • “I know it’s better to find a job while I have a job, but I really want to quit.”

MI helps us tap into our job seekers’ motivations and explore their “why”. By listening and eliciting their reasons for change, we can help them fully explore their ambivalence which is essential to change. In short, MI helps us arrange the conversation so that our job seekers become more motivated. It is also an evidence-based approach with numerous studies across various settings and populations on its effectiveness.

MI Has Spirit!

The spirit of MI is how the conversation should feel. That conversation should feel like a partnership (collaboration), with the job seeker feeling valued and accepted (autonomy). The conversation should demonstrate compassion while evoking and drawing out ideas (evocation) rather than imposing them. Examples of these concepts might sound like this:
  • “This is a partnership. We will work together to help you achieve your career goals.”
  • “I have some experience with that. Can I make some suggestions? You get to choose any or none of them.”
  • “You probably feel two ways about this. Tell me about your internal struggle.”
  • “I’m really interested in understanding your perspective. How do you feel about talking to me more about your point of view?”

How MI Helped Me Help Others

Learning the full MI framework takes time and practice to master. It is a complex skill. Despite first being introduced to MI concepts in 2017, I am still a novice. But what I quickly came to love about MI was that I could immediately implement many of its lessons and techniques. I gained micro skills to evoke change talk through open-ended questions, affirmations (recognize strengths and values), reflections, and summarizing. By applying these skills, I found I could move conversations toward change, and I became a better listener in the process. Additionally, I no longer needed to supply all the solutions. In the end, the choice for change is theirs to make.

What training has been pivotal in your career? Perhaps you'll find your answer in Nashville at this year’s Annual National Training Conference!


Curious about MI? Check out these resources:

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The National Employment Network Association (NENA) serves Employment Networks (ENs), American Job Centers (AJCs), State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies (SVRAs) and other Stakeholders involved in the Social Security Administration's Ticket to Work and Self-Sufficiency Program.

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