John BraithwaiteIn this guest blog, Professor John Braithwaite, who leads the Peacebuilding Compared project and is the founder of RegNet School of Regulation and Global Governance at the Australian National University, discusses the parallels between Motivational Interviewing and restorative practices and describes a framework for understanding why these approaches work.

Well done, International Institute for Restorative Practices, for its forthcoming professional development event on Motivational Interviewing for restorative practitioners, led by experts Dawn Schantz and Elizabeth Smull.

Restorative practitioners have failed to give sufficient attention to motivational interviewing, with notable exceptions such as David Karp in New York. Like restorative practices, the philosophy of motivational interviewing is about listening, empowering and "doing with."

We know from the child development literature that parents who natter at their children (rather than communicate firm resolve against bad behavior) are ineffective at preventing bad behavior such as violence. Such nattering parents shout "Stop hitting your sister" on the run as they move from dining room to kitchen without pausing to ensure that the violence does cease, let alone elicit understanding of why violence is so disapproved.

From the evaluation literature on Motivational Interviewing we know that to change behavior we must genuinely listen to narratives of non-compliance. This body of empirical research includes over 80 randomized controlled trials and persuasive meta analyses. The research shows that listening must lead to agreement on desired outcomes and self-monitoring and/or external monitoring of progress toward them. That commitment is secured in the Motivational Interviewing method by helping people to find their own motivation to attain an outcome. In the translation of William Miller’s Motivational Interviewing approach to restorative practices, we replace "clinician" with "facilitator":

  • The client, rather than the restorative facilitator, should make the arguments for change.
  • The facilitator’s role is to evoke the client’s own concerns and motivations.
  • To effect this change in approach:
    • Listen with empathy
    • Minimize resistance
    • Nurture hope and optimism1

The Motivational Interviewing literature mirrors much of what we have discovered along a different path during the past three decades about the limits of business regulators being directional and combative as opposed to empathic and eliciting.

Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 11.54.57 AMAnn Jenkins’s, Ph.D., research on our 1988-91 nursing home regulation data showed the importance of "confidence" or "self-efficacy" in regulatory compliance.2 It is easy to grasp the intuition that we achieve more against our outcomes on those days when we arrive at work with a feeling of confidence that we can tackle them. So clear empirical evidence that self-efficacy of managers predicted future regulatory compliance was not a surprise. "Importance" in the Figure has a longer history of empirical predictive power in the regulatory literature, for example in the consistent effect of commitment to obeying the law in empirical tests of control theory. In the Motivational Interviewing literature "Readiness" involves asking, "How ready are you to make these changes?" This is based on the finding that ambivalence is the crucial dilemma we face when changing our behavior. Because we have the feeling that life is short and there are good and bad sides to everything, we often focus on the bad side and take the lazy path of not making a change we know we should bother to make. This insight is also found in the brilliant ethnographic work of David Matza (1964) on Delinquency and Drift. Delinquents are infrequently committed to law breaking; rather they ambivalently drift between worlds of delinquency and law abidingness. They do not think breaking society’s rules is right so much as they drift into "techniques of neutralization" that soften the moral bind of law.

Restorative practitioners are therefore skilled at what the counselors conceive as Rogerian reflective listening — listening that reflects back commitment to achieve outcomes grounded in motivations chosen by the speaker. They ask open questions, as opposed to rhetorical questions or questions that evoke yes/no answers — questioning that shows respect for the person and active listening that summarizes back to speakers’ paths that the speaker has chosen that might steer their own journey to change. This is a common human skill that good parents have. It rolls with resistance rather than arguing combatively, while communicating commitment to stick with the problem until it is sorted.


This post relies significantly on J. Braithwaite (2011). The essence of responsive regulation. UBC Law Review, 44(3), 475-520. That publication contains citations that support empirical claims in this post.

1 These dot points are adapted from a PowerPoint presentation by Dr. Stan Steindl to my colleagues. In addition to Dr. Steindl, I am grateful for conversations with Mary Ivec, Mark Nolan and Nathan Harris.

2 Jenkins, A. (1994). The role of managerial self-efficacy in corporate compliance. Law and Human Behaviour, 18, 71-88.