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Teen Psychologist

Motivational Interviewing

Earlier this year, we attended a Motivational Interviewing, or MI, workshop led by Vince Schutt from Enviromentum. Before the workshop, we had never heard of MI before so don’t worry if you haven’t either! Basically, MI helps you communicate in a way that makes it more likely for folks to change. To give you a taste of MI and the techniques that you can use, we’ve laid out a bit of info from Vince below. To learn more about MI and develop your MI skills, Enviromentum offers FREE workshops throughout the year for people of all ages and skill levels - check out their calendar here.

Intro to Motivational Interviewing

In the world of communicating about environmental issues there is this spectrum:

MI looks to the right side of the spectrum - focusing on collaboration, complex reflection, affirmation of skillfulness, and emphasizing a person's freedom of choice in this process. To communicate like this you need to tap into your CURIOSITY - when talking with someone, ask them questions and integrate your personal reflections to create connections. Your focus needs to be on THEM. 


The goal here is for the other person to feel heard, respected, and open to discovering their personal desires, abilities, reasons, and needs in support of change. This is good for not only them but us as well - it gets rid of the pressure of feeling as though you need to convince somebody and reminds you that at the end of the day, some people just aren’t going to get on board with this and that is OKAY. In fact - it’s more effective to affirm them in their current stance, than to persuade them. They’ll be more likely to stew on things and change their habits at a later time!!

To see this kind of communication in action, check out the film Purple Mountains:

In talking about climate change, we tend to use techniques on the left side - persuading, confronting, and giving information. For an example, check out the movie trailer to Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth:

If you watched the trailer, how did it make you feel? For us, some of what we noticed was how the dramatic music felt very aggressive and horror movie-esque, like we were under attack and being threatened.


Now, think about a person in your life who hasn’t been super willing to discuss climate change or hasn’t gotten involved in climate action yet - do you think this stress-inducing, blame-placing communication style is going to make them more open to change? Probs not. (And, turns out, research around smokers quitting says: yeah nope. Counterproductive!)

  • Persuade

  • Confront

  • Persuade with permission

  • Give information

  • Question

  • Simple Reflection

  • Emphasize autonomy

  • Seek collaboration

  • Complex reflection

  • Affirmation

The Importance of Curiosity

When you are using curiosity in conversation, you are signalling to the other person that you are interested in what they are saying and that you want to hear their perspective - you’re bonding! When you’re bonding with someone, this actually releases the oxytocin hormone in your brain, stimulating feelings like trust, positivity, and empathy - and you create memories around the experiences that gave you those feelings. 


When using curiosity, the people you are having conversations with will create positive memories of feeling welcome, open and comfortable - and they’ll want to engage in more of that. For green leaders like us, this is great because it helps them to understand that we are not the enemy - we want to hear from them, we are interested in their perspective and ideas, and we want them to be part of our community. In all, this encourages them to actually get involved and be part of creating change!

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