They could so use coaching — but don’t want to be coached!

We had a discussion in one of our ICF Onboarding class: a participant knows a person who would CLEARLY benefit from coaching, but they won’t hear of it. As we discussed in “Coaching the uncoachable” and “How many coaches does it take to change a lightbulb?“, there is not much that you can do in this case.

But, but, but …. what if you are the manager of this person and they are making everybody in the company miserable (another case discussed in another class — Coaching in Organizations, this time)? Can you force them? Of course, you could limit their options: “be coached or be gone” — but that’s hardly a recipe for success.

Here is something you might try: It is a technique called “motivational interviewing”. It is mainly used in counselling and the medical field to help people decide to make lifestyle changes that are good for them. It was first develop to help problem drinkers. It is not really a coaching approach, and it is not really Solution Focused as the practitioner (or manager) has decided what a good outcome would be: the person drinks less, the team member agrees that coaching would be worth a try …

Motivational Interviewing also starts with the practitioner listening for what the client wants: “How would you like things to be different?” “How are the conflicts with your colleagues getting in the way of what you want?” The interviewer listens, explores, reflects back and needs to stay clear of judgement or evaluation. Just listen for what the person wants.

Another technique used in motivational interviewing is called “developing discrepancies” — eliciting descriptions of the gap between what is wanted and what is happening now. What are the unintended consequences of the current behavior? How are these getting in the way of what the person wants? For example: “Ok, so you would like to lead project A, B, C — how are the conflicts with your colleague XYZ influencing that situation?”

Throughout the conversation the practitioner tries to avoid arguments — the discussion is a bit like a Socratic dialogue. The counterpart is left to draw their own consequences. They are not told — only invited to think about their situation and possible changes that THEY might want to make.

Like in coaching, the practitioner of Motivational Interviewing might inquire about past successes — has the person ever been successful, even a little bit? what worked then? When were the conflicts with the other team members less palpable? What did the counterpart in the conversation contribute to it?

The steps of Motivational Interviewing are called:


Being curious about the person’s (work) life, finding out about their perspective, listening appreciatively


Asking about what the other person would like to change (while influencing a bit in the direction of the desired change) by speaking about the discrepancy between what the person wants and what is happening currently and noticing everything that is going in the right direction.


Taking about what could be different after a change, why the change would be beneficial, what would shift in the person’s life.


Helping the person design experiments and forward movement.

As you see — not entirely coaching but not telling either. To learn more, you can visit the website of the trainers of Motivational Interviewing or you can come to our free meetups and exchange sessions to share questions and answers with us and friendly people

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