Tip #115 The Engaging Process

In the last Tip, I introduced the new four processes used in the collaborative conversation called motivational interviewing: engaging, focusing, evoking and planning. Here we take a closer look at the engaging process.

You can do very little with faith,
but you can do nothing without it.

Samuel Butler

If we fall, we don’t need self-recrimination or
blame or anger – we need a reawakening of
our intention and a willingness to recommit,
to be wholehearted once again. Each decision we make,
each action we take, is born out of an intention. 

Sharon Salzberg

Engaging is the first of the processes because it is the foundation on which the whole conversation occurs. When engagement is present, clients sense we are with them; they relax and feel a degree of safety to share honestly what concerns them about their current behavior and how to move forward.

Review Tip #102 for ideas on how to conduct the beginning of a session to promote engagement. Here are the main points:

  • If you begin with small talk, refer to the client’s experience rather than yours.
  • Use your body language and eyes to focus on the client.
  • Introduce yourself very briefly, maintaining eye contact.
  • If you introduce how you see the session going, include the client’s point of view and ask permission to proceed.
  • Begin with open-ended questions. Tip #60.
  • Hold back your closed questions for the first few minutes and circle back to them later.
  • Roll with any resistance you hear. Tip #103

Even when engagement goes wonderfully at the beginning of a session, it will be necessary to return to this process off and on. Clues that engagement is slipping:

  • You notice less eye contact.
  • You hear language such as, “Yes, but…” or “You don’t understand.”
  • The client’s body language shifts to be more closed.
  • The client becomes quiet.

Return to engagement in the middle of a session by doing some or all of these:

  • Remark on the shift you noticed: “You don’t like that suggestion I just made.” “I’m getting the impression we are getting off track here.”
  • “I hear that we aren’t on the same page anymore.” Also see Tip #103, Rolling with Resistance.
  • Back up to just before the engagement slipped: “Let’s get back to what you said a bit ago about wanting to…”
  • Apologize for your part: “It sounds like I am getting ahead of where you are right now. I’m sorry.”
  • Check in and ask for direction: “Tell me how we are doing here” or “What were you most wanting us to talk about today?” or “Tell me what you see yourself ready to do this week.” There are more examples in Tip #4, Asking for Direction.

Engaging is an essential process throughout all successful counseling sessions. With practice, you can tell when it’s present and learn to pick up moments when it needs attending to again.

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