Blogs written by and for ACA Members.

Find our member blogs by member name here!

Barbara Jordan
Apr 03, 2012

Help People Navigate Tough Waters

Last month, I gave you several tips on listening to improve your relationships. As you may recall, I said you could avoid "going upcreek without a paddle" by using your O.A.R.S., in which OARS was an acronym representing four active listening skills. In this blog post, I will give you tools to help people navigate tough waters once you've deployed your OARS.

As a trainer in Motivational Interviewing (MI) throughout the United States, I help leaders develop these essential communication tools. I just returned from SanFrancisco, California where I trained supervisors at the ACA convention. On April 12, I will be at the Tundra Lodge in Green Bay, Wisconsin conducting another MI training.

So, what do you do when someone finally mentions the desire, ability, reasons, needs, and/or commitment to change? Here are some tips:

1.Ask Open-Ended Questions
Ask questions to which the answer is change talk. For example, "Are you ready to ____?" Are you willing to stop _____?" or "It sounds like you're ready to _____. Do you think you can?"

2.Do Decisional Balance
First ask for the good things about each option, then ask for the not-so-good things; help the person weigh the pro’s and cons. For example, "What are the good things about staying in your relationship? And, the benefits of leaving?" Then ask, "Now, what are the drawbacks of each?"

3.Ask For Elaboration
When change talk emerges, ask for more detail. For example, “In what ways have you thought of changing…?” or, "How has your ______ (undesirable behavior) hurt your family?"

4.Ask For Examples
When change talk emerges, ask for specific examples. “When was the last time that happened? Give me an example. What else?”

5.Look Back
Ask about a time before the current problem emerged. How were things better, different?

6.Look Forward
Ask what may happen if things continue as they are (status quo). Use the “Miracle Question”: “If you had a magic wand and with a wave of that wand, everything was exactly the way you wanted it, you were successful in making the change, what would be different? How would you like your work/life to be?”

7.Explore Goals & Values
Ask what the person’s values are. What does s/he want in life? How does the problem behavior fit in with that person’s goals or values? Does it help realize a goal or value, or does it interfere with it? Is there consistency or does the behavior conflict with the person's values or goals?

8. Come Alongside
Side with the negative (status quo) side of ambivalence. Say, “Perhaps _____ is so important to you that you won’t give it up, no matter what the cost.”

9. Use Change Rulers/Continuums
Ask, “On a scale of 0 to 10, how important is it to you to _____(target behavior), with 0 being not at all important and 10 being extremely important?” Then ask, “What places you at a 7?” then, “What would have to happen for you to move up on that scale?” Instead of asking how important it is, ask “How much do you want…, how capable are you…, & how committed are you …?”

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

Contact Name

Contact Title

Contact Email

Contact Phone

Related Info


  1. RadEditor - HTML WYSIWYG Editor. MS Word-like content editing experience thanks to a rich set of formatting tools, dropdowns, dialogs, system modules and built-in spell-check.
    RadEditor's components - toolbar, content area, modes and modules
    Toolbar's wrapper 
    Content area wrapper
    RadEditor's bottom area: Design, Html and Preview modes, Statistics module and resize handle.
    It contains RadEditor's Modes/views (HTML, Design and Preview), Statistics and Resizer
    Editor Mode buttonsStatistics moduleEditor resizer
    RadEditor's Modules - special tools used to provide extra information such as Tag Inspector, Real Time HTML Viewer, Tag Properties and other.

Join/Renew NOW!