Questions Will Cost You

By Dr. Scott Glassman from Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory

It’s often easy to ask questions when working with students, and a bit more difficult to stay in a reflective listening mode. Often considered the core micro-skill in Motivational Interviewing, offering reflections opens the gates to a deeper understanding of the student’s experience and helps students elaborate on change talk.

Description: “Questions Will Cost You” is an activity facilitated in groups of three. The groups consist of one client, one counselor, and one observer. The goal of the activity is to practice reflective listening, using simple and complex reflective statements instead of asking questions. The ‘client’ will identify a true conflict for them, in which they are trying to make behavioral change (e.g. wanting to quit smoking). As they begin to talk about this issue the counselor will use core skills of Motivational Interviewing; reflective statements, open-ended questions, and even closed questions. The observer uses the worksheet (included at the back of this packet) in order to ‘score’ the conversation by tallying the number of reflections and questions used by the counselor.

Try it on: The most important element for this activity to work is the use of a real story. If the ‘client’ chooses a conflict that does not hold real emotional power for them, it is much more difficult to practice this technique. This activity works well when the facilitator can mill around the room, supporting the ‘counselor’ role and helping them find constructive questions.

Novice vs Experienced: One variation on this activity is to score complex reflections and simple reflections differently. In this version the complex reflective statements might cost only $0.05 with the purpose of encouraging participants to continue to learn and develop their skills in motivational interviewing.

Your daily interactions and experiences with youth in your program are colored by knowledge of each individual. The nuance that exists in each real situation cannot be easily duplicated within a role-playing activity. In this exercise, make an effort to create context for each scenario. Importantly, don’t loose sight of the goal; to internalize evidence based tools and practices germane to Motivational Interviewing. Once you have practiced these skills in role play, they can be filed away and used to augment the fantastic, and ‘real’ you that makes you a great mentor, and facilitator in your program or practice.

Assessing Impact: This activity has a built-in assessment tool in that the total cost for the conversation is a rating of how many questions vs. reflections were used. The goal for the activity is to achieve the lowest cost possible. When finishing this activity, debriefing should include a facilitated discussion about whether it felt challenging or natural, what in particular was hard or awkward (not a competitive comparison of cost for conversation between groups). Another important part of debriefing includes mention that this modality requires practice in order to use it effectively, that this was just the first try, and that staff will benefit from repetition.

Click the “download” button to access the worksheet associated with this resource.

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