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Barbara Jordan
Mar 01, 2012

Feel Like You’re Going Upcreek Without a Paddle? Use Your O.A.R.S.!

Have you ever noticed that when you listen actively to clients, really listen, they become more cooperative? Have you noticed that when you listen this way, your client is also more likely to talk openly? And, do you notice that when you talk to them with dignity and respect, with positive intention, they really listen to you? If you've been counseling for a while now, of course you do!

As a trainer in Motivational Interviewing (MI) throughout the United States, I help thousands of counselors develop these communication tools. Next month, I’ll be in SanFrancisco, California training supervisors in MI at the ACA convention.

So how do you avoid the feeling that you’re “going upcreek without a paddle?” Put your oars in the water, of course! O.A.R.S. is an acronym in Motivational Interviewing referring to four micro-skills of active listening. If you want to motivate your clients and elicit their cooperation, you need to utilize these very important skills. Here they are:

O=Open-ended Questions:
So, what makes you think it might be time for a change?
What happens when you do that?
How can we/I help you today?
Can you tell me more…?
What else…?
So what do you think about that?

Wow, that must have been hard.
Your (commitment, courage, hard work, etc) really shows by (the way you’re acting).
That showed a lot of (strength, determination).
By the way you handled that, you showed a lot of…
It must’ve taken a lot of work to…
That took a lot of guts.
Being here to solve this shows that you are concerned.

It sounds like you feel _____ when others _______ so then you _____.
I hear your frustration/anger/hurt when such and such happens.
I see how satisfied you are with your team’s performance.
It seems like you want this more than your spouse/child/parent does.

To summarize, …
What I’ve heard you say is…
You’ve said so for that…Is that correct? Have I left anything out?

Here are a couple more principles to keep in mind if you want to motivate and influence your employees. First of all, adopt a facilitative approach and work collaboratively with your employees. Focus on the individual with whom you are working. You can enhance your employees’ motivation for positive change by asking questions like, “What do you want?” “Is what you’re doing getting you what you want?” and “What’s your plan?”

Although you show empathy (as indicated by the reflections listed above), you can still be directive. Do this by identifying and reducing the client’s ambivalence (sitting-on-the-fence, hemming-and-hawing) and resistance by saying something like “I hear you saying_____, but I see you doing.” Point out discrepencies between intentions and behaviors, statements and actions.

Again, I hope this was helpful. Please comment if you agree, disagree, or have an important point to add! Let me know what you think. Find out more about my leadership coaching and training programs designed to help you develop you or your organization.

Barbara Jordan is a counselor, counselor educator, author, trainer, and leadership coach. For more information go to

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