William R. Miller is one of the most cited scientists in the world. His work in Motivational Interviewing is changing the way practitioners in the field of behavior change go about their work. I’m trying to use a little of his wisdom.

 Take my friend and business consultant, Ben, for example. He’s in the middle of a Scotch, beer and Vicodin splurge. He calls it his playtime. I don’t see it that way.

 Ben likes me. And I like him. We are accustomed to talking about tough things with each other like money problems, marital disputes and kids who don’t fully appreciate their parents. So when I noticed the reckless path he was heading down, my instinctive reaction, of course, was to help a friend in need, to jump in and tell him to stop the craziness.

 This is a loving instinct for someone to have. However, I’ve learned from Bill Miller that such action can be called the “righting reflex” and may actually cause more harm than good. That’s because people are inclined to resist others telling them what they should do. They are more apt to follow what their “self-talk” is saying to them.

 Ben is a smart guy. I know within him are his own gnawing concerns that he may be getting high too much and too often. At the same time, he’s ambivalent, and he really is counting on the buzz to allow him some relief from the daily grind, to give him room to relax. If I gave in to my proclivity to tell him what to do, Ben’s self-talk would only defend his behaviors. If I really wanted to help, I had to alter my approach.

 So I asked Ben, “What’s most fun about getting high most nights?” Then, I listened to the thoughts and feelings that poured out. Next, I asked Ben, what, if anything, might he gain by slowing down. The wise Ben began to emerge, not elegantly or with conviction, but slowly and with reservation. Except now it was his own voice of reason he was hearing, not mine.

 I’m not a psychologist or counselor. I’m a friend. I won’t see Ben for a couple of months or so, but I felt good about not coming across as a blustery know-it-all. In fact, I don’t think I used the words “should” or “must” once during our entire conversation. I did tell Ben, right before catching my flight home, how much I appreciated his business advice and how I noticed he still has a hitch in his golf swing.

 I think Bill Miller would be proud of me.