The latte factor in Motivational Interviewing
Reflective listening, as it’s used in Motivational Interviewing, can include both simple (content-focused) and complex (beneath-the-surface) reflections. I like to use the analogy of an iceberg to illustrate the difference between simple and complex reflections (link to article); but the iceberg image doesn’t quite to do justice to the richness of what’s “below the waterline”.
At a recent professional development workshop I attended, the facilitator used the image of a café latte to illustrate listening for varying verbal and non-verbal content. This got me thinking: a better (and better-tasting) analogy for reflective listening might well be a macchiato versus an iceberg:
The top layer of foam represents the spoken content that the person offers.
The middle (espresso) layer represents the person’s thoughts and feelings.
The bottom layer – the foundation, as it were – represents the person’s values and beliefs.
Accurate empathy (that is, listening with ears, eyes, undivided attention, and compassion/heart) is needed to hear and reflect a person’s unspoken emotions as well as underlying values.
Here’s a quick example:
Client: “It is way too stressful right now for me to make this change.”
Now you have three choices:
Reflect the spoken content (simple reflection)
Reflect your sense of what the person might be thinking or feeling (complex reflection)
Go for the underlying values/beliiefs as you understand them (complex relfection)
It goes without saying that this is offered in the spirit of Motivational Interviewing: Partnership, acceptance, compassion and evocation. You might be on target or not quite accurate, but in the end your reflective response – especially complex reflections – will forward the conversation (and exploration) in an affirming and supportive way.