🌈 Happy Pride Month! 🌈
As we kick off a month of rainbow flags and Love Is Love salutes from major corporations (it’s called rainbow washing), this month is also a reminder that the LGBTQ+ community still has a ways to go.
Even those in the community who live a privileged life, like myself, face homophobia from unexpected corners. Homophobia can come in many different forms. It can be as extreme as actual violence or as subtle as a cold, dismissive attitude towards a member of the LGBTQ+ community. And it’s even possible to be homophobic by not calling out or dismissing homophobic behavior (the same thing is true for not acknowledging the BLM movement).
There are many causes of homophobia including religious beliefs, but the most dominant is the cultural and institutional forces that dictate our society. We live in a patriarchal society. For many, homosexuality is a direct assault on those institutions. LGBTQ+ people don’t always follow clear-cut gender roles and so they are challenging the systems that dictate how a man and woman should behave. But the sad thing is, as with most bigotry, homophobia hurts everyone. It means children can’t grow and explore things they love if they fall out of their traditional gender roles (dolls for boys and spaceships for girls. Space is just cool!), it impacts same-sex friendships, and it limits people’s free expression of themselves.
And that pernicious fear and phobia bring us to our topic today: Motivational Interviewing!
If you are reading this, I assume you are at least socially liberal and want to see all people treated fairly. Maybe you even want to actively help make that change in society. But how do we do that when so much is polarized and everyone has retreated into their own camps? (hmm I wonder where I’m going with this…)
What is Motivational Interviewing?
Motivational interviewing is a more profound method of communicating that involves deeper conversations, a lot of listening, and reflection. In the political world, it’s a deeper form of canvassing. Motivational interviewing is just one powerful tool in the deep canvassing toolbelt. The idea is to elicit emotionally significant experiences and encourage reflection from the person who is set in their views to influence change.
Why Motivational Interviewing?
It actually works! The goal is to elicit behavioral change, which is not as easy as we’d all like. Have you ever tried to scare, blame, reason, or rant to change someone’s mind? How’d it work out for you? Probably not great.
The reason for that is because it’s usually a one-way conversation. It’s telling them how they should feel. As my good friend Isaac Newton said, “to any action, there is always an opposite and equal reaction.” That type of one-way communication usually puts people on the defensive, they lock up and are harder to change.
But motivational interviewing is less about talking and more about listening. When the Journal of Science evaluated an effort to reduce transphobia in South Florida, they found the very first case that actually reduced prejudice (the first-ever!)in a measurable and long-lasting way. And all they did was talk to people for 10 minutes! Check out the report, it is truly fascinating.
“What we’ve learned … is that a broad swath of voters are actually open to changing their mind. And that’s exciting, because it offers the possibility that we could get past the current paralysis on a wide variety of controversial issues.” - David Fleischer
Principles of Motivational Interviewing
All of that is well and good, but how do you actually do this, you say? Luckily, the minds around motivational interviewing (it’s been around for 30 years!) have some handy acronyms for easy instructions.
First up is how you can come to the table. As we’ve established, people are smart, they know when they’re being pandered to or judged. They will lock up and ignore your views if they feel threatened; this is called the backfire effect.
For motivational interviewing to really work, you need to show up in a compassionate and open way. It’s about seeing the other person as a collaborator, not a nemesis. We are, after all, asking that they join us in the fight against homophobia. It’s about seeing the person’s absolute worth and feeling empathy for their thoughts and feelings. And finally, evocation is about truly listening and using their wisdom to draw out how this issue helps serve their values (not the other way around).
Putting that empathy into practice is much easier with the four-step process to Engage, Focus, Evoke, and Plan. Before even discussing the issue yourself, you want to engage with the person to establish a partnership with them and understand their values. That’s where the OARS or core skills of motivational interviewing come in. You should ask Open-ended questions to get a sense of the person. Using the w’s (who, what, where, why, and how) will help to facilitate dialogue.
You can also share affirmations about the person to loosen things up. It’s impossible to agree with someone on everything, but even the most different people can find some common ground. Take Ted Cruz. He and I could not be more different, but I bet he likes some good Tex Mex now and again, just like me. Finding common ground only builds the bond of partnership more.
The next stage is about focusing the conversation and having a clear agenda. When talking about serious issues like this with voters, it’s easy to go off track, so having a clear set of questions and topics you want to hear about is important.
Now we get to the sweet spot of motivational interviewing. Once you’ve established an agenda, you want to evoke those reasons that would help them change. We do that through reflective listening. This is where the empathy part is really important. Reflective listening is not only listening to what they say but also what they implied. It’s taking their words and paraphrasing them back to them to help build support for your cause. The key to reflective listening is to remove your judgment to find common ground. Using that common ground you can begin to summarize the conversation and build a plan of action. That’s called getting your foot in the door, have them commit to or agree to a small piece and it will only make it easier to say yes to the larger issue.
It may seem scary, but with these tools, we can have deeper and more effective conversations with people we don’t always agree with. Need proof? Just watch this heartwarming 15-minute video of this Tedx Talk about motivational interviewing.
For my fellow gays and really everyone, remember that you are loved and you are enough. Happy Pride!
Find this post helpful? You can subscribe to Knurdology for more analysis and advice on political communications.