Release Your Inner Tony Robbins and Become More Persuasive with “Motivational Interviewing”

Noelle Ihli

Think about the last time you tried to change someone’s mind (or the last time someone tried to change yours!). Chances are, no matter how airtight your logic or exhaustive your facts, both parties left the interaction unpersuaded. 

Psychologists have long known that it’s a true feat for anyone to change opinions—especially regarding topics that touch on deeply held pre-existing beliefs.

So, how can you find common ground and explore new ideas in an increasingly polarized world? Think Again author Adam Grant reveals how readers can “release their inner Tony Robbins” and master the art of persuasion for more productive conversations. He calls this technique “motivational interviewing.”

What Is Motivational Interviewing?

The main idea behind motivational interviewing is that facts and knowledge don’t change people’s minds. What does? Infusing your conversions with curiosity, questioning, empathy, and genuine interest.

Instead of talking at someone, you talk with them. Your goal is to better understand the other person’s perspective and open the door to new ways of thinking. This approach is particularly effective even with issues that might seem very black-and-white. 

Motivational interviewing involves four essential steps: 

  1. Ask Open-Ended Questions and Listen

In today’s busy world, it’s rare for someone to give us their full attention. Yet, this alone can be a transformative experience that opens the door to new ways of thinking. 

Be curious about the person’s perspectives and opinions. Ask questions like, “How long have you felt this way?” or, “Can you help me understand why this issue is important to you?” Don’t dispute their answers; listen with the intent to understand.

  1. Empathize with and Affirm the Other Person’s Humanity

As you listen to the other person talk, remind yourself of their inherent human value and empathize whenever possible. Strive to validate their convictions and empathize with their emotions, especially if you disagree with them.

Indicate respect and understanding with phrases like, “I’ve never thought of it that way before,” “I can see how you’d feel that way,” or “That’s interesting. Tell me more.” 

  1. Summarize What You Hear

Show that you’re fully engaged in exchanging ideas by summarizing the other person’s main points. This strategy isn’t an exercise in parroting back their words but rather synthesizing the vital elements of the conversation to show you’re paying attention.

You might say, “I hear what you’re saying. You feel strongly about _____ and have for a very long time. However, your last conversation about this issue was challenging, and you felt shut down.” 

  1. Ask Thought-Provoking Questions 

The final element of motivational interviewing is asking thought-provoking questions that open the door to new ideas and discoveries. Similar to step one, keep your questions open-ended. And remember, your goal isn’t to strong-arm the other person into thinking as you do. Instead, you’re trying to find common ground and facilitate growth. 

You might ask, “How would your life/job/habits change if you thought differently about ____?” “Do you know someone who thinks differently than you about this topic? What about someone who thinks the same?” 

Keep the conversation going, and keep your mind open. A successful motivational interview should leave both parties feeling connected, understood, and aligned. Over time, conversations like this can even change someone’s mind! 

The Heart of Motivational Interviewing: Connection and Respect

To be effective, motivational interviewing requires you to prioritize connection and respect for the other person over being right. It’s not a Jedi mind trick. It’s a meeting of minds. Fair warning: You may find your own opinions shifting as you listen to the other person with genuine interest! 

Thoughtful listening and real engagement are vital every step of the way. A fire hydrant of facts and logic can feel like an attack that shuts the other person down and pushes them further into their corner. Motivational interviewing, on the other hand, creates a safe space for both parties to connect, get curious, and engage with different ideas.

Ready to unleash your inner Tony Robbins and give motivational interviewing a try? Pick a relatively safe topic that sparks disagreement (for example, McDonald's vs. Wendy’s or chocolate vs. vanilla) and try your hand at motivational interviewing. How did it go? Tell us on Twitter using #ThinkAgain

About the author

Noelle is a content creator, author, and editor. She lives in Idaho with her husband, two sons, and two cats. When she's not writing, she's either reading a good book or scaring herself with true-crime documentaries.

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