How To Do Your Good Work, Better

Motivational interviewing and asking open-ended questions are a common way to get good information and gain trust with a patient or client. But there are always some unexpected challenges with tried-and-true ways, like MI. They may work with some folks. But people who are trauma survivors or have challenges with trust can often need a different approach. One familiar phrase in particular can backfire when you least expect it: "tell me more".

Imagine you’re in the middle of a conversation. It’s going well. The person in front of you is opening up and it feels like they are starting to trust you. You say “tell me more” or “say more”. Suddenly, it feels like the air has been sucked out of the room.

What happened?

The interaction has gone from conversational to commanding. “Tell me more” or “say more” are not open-ended questions; they are statements that command.

  • A command shows everyone in the room who is in charge

  • A command establishes authority.

  • A command doesn’t offer choice.

Conversely, an invitation builds trust. Invitations allow your client or patient to be "in choice" with you. Your patient feeling as if they are “in choice” with you is very important. This is especially important for trauma survivors, for whom power and choice was taken away at some point. As a provider, you have more power than your patient. And you can choose to share some of that with a patient by allowing a client to be in choice with you.


Patients feeling as if they are in choice is also good for you! Clients who feel this way are more compliant, easier to work with, show up and follow the care plan. This means less stress for you and work that is more satisfying, rather than life-sucking.

Instead of a command like “tell me more” or “say more” use an invitation: "Can you tell me more?"

"Can you say more?" may not sound like much. But adding the word “can” makes the sentence a question. It offers the chance for engagement and demonstrates a desire for reciprocity. An invitation also maintains a conversational tone to the meeting or appointment. Invitations just sound better. (Try it out loud now:)

"Tell me more."

"Can you tell me more?"

Now ask yourself: what gets you to trust faster? Inviting. Always inviting. Inviting gets you to trust faster. If your goal is to build trust with the person in front of you, use an invitation: “can you tell me more?” not a command.