Motivational Interviewing: Establishing A Tone Of Trust


One thing I’m extremely thankful for is that I’ve never lost the respect for everyone I meet and that each person who comes to me for help is unique. Every person has their own unique back story, and even if I were to think it sounds remarkably like others I’ve heard, I know I’ve never heard this back story from the person telling it to me now. Remembering to listen with full attention to the person before me is critical if I’m going to create a trusting climate where they feel safe enough to open up and tell me the important things that lay deeper than the surface stuff.

A poor Employment Counsellor – and yes poor examples exist in my field just as there are in any group of people – will neglect to fully listen. One of the most attractive traps one can fall into is to hear only enough from the person you’re helping to figuratively lump them in with others with similar stories. When doing this, your active listening stops, and your mind starts perusing your ready-made solutions that worked in the past, and you pull out solution number 4 and present it as the panacea to solve all this person’s troubles. “I have the perfect answer for you! Just follow the steps of my plan here and you’ll reach the end goal. I’m so happy to have helped!”

That’s just not going to work. What’s more, the person before you is intelligent enough to know you’ve tuned them out and you’re not really engaged with their unique situation. In short, they feel you don’t really understand because you didn’t hear them out; and they’re right.

A situation like this was shared with me just yesterday when a colleague consulted with me about someone she was working with. The fellow has a degree in Economics and some Employment Counsellor in another agency advised him to go after one of the job postings she had for a Restaurant Server. He felt shut down, unheard, misread and told her as much; she branded him a problem client.

Listening sounds like one of the easiest things to do; our ears pick up sounds without us having to turn hearing on and off, so we assume what we hear is 100% of what the person is saying when in fact we don’t. There are techniques like paraphrasing and saying things like, “Tell me more about that” which are designed to both acknowledge for the person that they were heard, and communicate a genuine want to hear more about something. Eye contact is critical too. I mean, how do you feel yourself when someone you’re speaking to breaks that eye contact and looks to your right or left as if something more interesting just happened behind you. You feel that connection is broken.

Have you ever considered your eye contact is one of the strongest ways to forge a bond? All those poets and authors who talked about seeing someone’s soul through their eyes; they were on to something there and they understood. If you want to make a subtle change that requires little effort but at the same time make a huge impact on those you counsel, work on maintaining eye contact. Don’t go for the beady-eyed, burn-through-your-skull kind of freakish look; that only scares others into thinking you’re getting kind of scary.

Direct eye contact that communicates enthusiasm for what this person has to share is what you’re after. From time to time in the conversation you’ll want to speak in a quiet voice that communicates concern and strong interest, such as when they relate something unpleasant. When they share something lighter or amusing, it’s okay to reflect warmth, smile, laugh along with them and that’s the moment to take that look away. Humour is essential to break tension, offer a break between heavy topics, and release some tension.

Of course what all this is really doing is continuing to build a trusting climate between you and this person before you. It is a huge mistake I think to start your meeting off with a statement that says, “We’ve only got 60 minutes to do your résumé so let’s dive right in – where did you work last and why aren’t you there now?” This kind of opening does set the tone that this is a business meeting with a clear goal, but it also communicates your time is more valuable than they are. All you’re going to get now is dates, past jobs and education. All the nuances of why they moved, what they found pleasing, what they want to avoid, where they feel most comfortable or most vulnerable; you’ve shut that down with your opening salvo.

The unfortunate message they receive is that whatever you’re doing in 60 minutes trumps your time with them now. Whether it’s your lunch or morning break, another client squeezed in to your schedule etc. they don’t really care, but they only have time now to do a token resume. The ironic thing? 60 minutes might be the same time you’d need to do a superior job that meets their needs and gets the document finished had you started by thanking them for the opportunity of meeting them and inviting them to share openly and honestly throughout your meeting. Some open-ended questions might set the tone of trust.

Challenge yourself; perhaps today – listen like you’ve never heard the story you’re hearing now; because you haven’t.

Helping Others Find Work: Step 1


Whenever helping someone find employment, I know two things; they want a job and they are only going to share what they think is needed for me to help them. There are many things which, having possession of that knowledge,  would help me help them meet their employment goal faster.

It’s not enough to simply say to someone you’ve just met, “Tell me everything – even if you think it’s not connected to your job search..” After all, it’s only natural for them to withhold past bad decisions, things they find shameful or embarrassing such as addictions, criminal records, firings, failures etc.

Now they might say, “I came to you for help getting a job. My personal business has nothing to do with that so can you help me get a job or not?” This should be totally understandable. Anyone taking this position isn’t necessarily belligerent or provocative, they may be simply unaware of how all these factors are connected to ultimately being successful or running into the same roadblocks in the future they’d experienced in both the past and present.

Step one is establishing trust. Never promise more than you can deliver; a job isn’t guaranteed . One approach that I typically use is to tell them that the quicker they trust me and share openly and honestly, the more I’ll be able to help them. Anything they tell me is confidential, and if they choose to open up and share their worries and concerns with me, I can help them with if or how to put this on a résumé and how to deal with this in a job interview. They are free to share as much or as little as they feel comfortable.

Now of course not everybody jumps at that offer and bares their soul. I don’t need all the details anyhow; just enough perhaps to help them find the right job in the right setting that will give them the best chance of long-term success. Let me illustrate what the right job in the right setting means. You see they’ve likely got enough skill to scan a list of jobs and pick out one that is a match for their previous experience. In fact, many well-meaning staff at employment agencies can do this with their own expertise. However, making a résumé to match that job isn’t enough. Even if they get an interview and get hired, it’s not likely they’ll keep that job unless the fit is a good one for both them and the employer.

To truly help someone find and land a job they’ll thrive in and maintain over the long haul, you have to invest in the person enough to find out where things have broken down in the past. Someone who has experience in the Hospitality sector but had to quit because of an overly demanding boss  who made inappropriate advances shouldn’t be applying to a job perhaps where they’ll be working late hours alone with a boss in a similar environment. While they may have the qualifications, they are unintentionally being set up to repeat a negative experience. Once is bad enough; two times might seriously undermine their confidence and have them question what they are doing to bring this on themselves when they aren’t to blame whatsoever.

Without asking questions to get at outside circumstances, you might also misinterpret behaviours you see as a lack of commitment too. Finding the perfect job 35 kilometres away from where someone lives might be reasonable to you, especially if they drive. However without learning they have a child with behaviour or physical challenges whom they need to be near to if needed, you might think they don’t really want to work when they aren’t enthusiastic about applying for it.

So we need to learn what’s going on beyond the job search. This holistic approach considers all kinds of factors beyond skills, education and past work history. It’s only when trust is established that the person you’re helping will share beyond surface issues. What else impacts a job search? How much time do you have? There’s their faith, family and social supports, income, housing, addictions, education, areas they’ve succeeded in the past, bad experiences, mode of transportation, childcare or caring for parents issues, mental and physical health, and the BIG one … etc. the etc., being all the other stuff that in their own situation is more prominent than all the other things you’d guess.

Finding out what motivates someone is critically important to finding out which job is right. So even when you know a person is definitely looking for a job as an Accountant, not just any Accountant job will do. Big firm, small firm, supportive environment or working largely in isolation? On a public transit route or do they drive? If you discovered their licence was suspended, maybe getting income from a shorter-term job outside of Accounting would be better to get the licence back  faster and THEN apply for the Accounting jobs? Who knew!

It may initially move slower as you help this person with their job search. In the end though, you make greater progress, they feel valued, they come to understand trust you’ve got their best interests in mind throughout. They may tell you they didn’t like the lack of progress at first, but in the end, you’ll find more people keep the jobs they land.

As A Client, How Do YOU View Meetings?


I am fortunate to count among my readers a broad cross-section of professionals, some unemployed and looking, or in school preparing to launch themselves into the field of their studies.

My appeal in this post is to actually speak directly to you who are clients receiving some kind of support and guidance, where you are sometimes told or asked to meet with a representative of an organization. This kind of meeting may be mandatory or optional, and you may look forward to it while others might see it as an intrusion; the price you pay for financial, spiritual or social support.

These meetings are wonderful opportunities for you to take advantage of. While the person you are meeting with might have their own agenda, such as updating your computer file every few months, you should recognize this as a chance for you to ask some questions of your own, find out what more the person you are meeting might be able to offer you or possibly help you do for yourself.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who come to such meetings without having done much thinking about its purpose; who sit in chairs provided, answer all the questions put to them, then get up and leave not having really engaged themselves in the process. What a shame!

As an Employment Counsellor, I often meet with clients 1:1 following various employment-related workshops I facilitate. This is a great time to give a person feedback on what I’ve observed, listen to the person talk about their goals for employment or schooling, and based on what I hear offer some suggestions. If however, it turns out that the person I’m meeting with limits themselves to short responses to questions I ask, asks no questions of their own, that meeting is going to be short and unproductive.

You see, you might want to get out of such meetings as fast as you can; viewing such face-to-face encounters as a wasted part of your day, having to travel there and back home, and for what? Just to go over the same old questions and give the same old answers? If that’s how you see things, then I guess you can be forgiven for not wanting to be there in the first place.

However, I wish that you could be a silent observer and watch some other clients in the same position as you as they go through the same meeting process with the same employee. You see, these folks come in willing to participate in the discussion; they want the opportunity to share what’s going on in their personal lives. This information is often valuable to the person listening; as a trained professional will be able to figure out what services, training opportunities or even what money might be available to help the person achieve their goals based on what they’ve shared.

So for example, if someone wanted to look for a job waiting on tables and serving alcohol but couldn’t afford the money to get the training in responsible alcohol service, the person hosting the meeting might have the funds to release so they could get the training, or know where to access it. If however the client says nothing, no help can be suggested, and the person’s goal is still only a wish.

Just yesterday I had two meetings I’d like to contrast as examples. One meeting was with a mature man who knows the construction industry. Being around 50, he sees himself working for 10 – 15 years but is trying to figure out what to do as he only knows construction and the body is making it harder to continue doing labour. So we addressed some options and he left with a plan.

The 2nd client showed up with her grandson and really just saw the meeting as a ‘where do I sign the required forms’ session. She was very nice, but there was no meaningful conversation to be had when the young pre-schooler was present and so actively robbing us both of a productive discussion. Was that her plan? I doubt it, but the entire meeting was less than 10 minutes. The conversation with the man? It lasted just over an hour, and he was surprised it went by so fast.

These are the chances and opportunities which you only get so often. How you view that meeting you must or could attend largely affects the outcome and whether you walk away feeling it was productive or not. I would encourage you to share your thoughts, your ideas, your problems and challenges. Be open and honest, listen to feedback and if you feel yourself being dismissed earlier than you’d like, arrange another meeting, or ask for more time. Some of my best discussions with clients actually happen when the client emails me ahead of time with questions they’d like answers to at our meeting, or things they’d like to discuss. That’s great! I’m always impressed and our time is much more valuable.

Truth is, this is YOUR meeting. You should take advantage of it. Will it be just a formality so you can go on with the day or will you really get involved in YOUR plan moving forward.

Now I really believe that as an adult, you are responsible for your own actions. You can choose your level of engagement or separation from the process, just understand the opportunities before you and the consequences of each choice.