The 1 to 10 Technique for Change

We met with Tom and Laura to talk to them about their marriage. Both of them felt stuck. Neither of them was very good at validating each other or even trying to understand each other’s point of view.

We suggested that they spend some time over the next week talking to each other. They had a specific issue in mind and they agreed to talk it over. We gave them specific coaching about how to have that conversation.

The next week they came back to meet with us and we asked them how it went. Both of them looked a little embarrassed and said that they didn’t talk about it.

Does that sound familiar? You give a couple specific steps and they don’t follow them?

What I realized is that we didn’t spend enough time on their motivation. Why should they try to do something that was potentially awkward and new? They weren’t totally bought into it.

Here’s one technique that can help to open up that dialog.

How People Change

I’ve written in other blogs about how people change.

On any behavior that we want to change, we start at being unaware that we have a problem. Then, we become convicted that there is something we should change. That doesn’t mean that someone is willing to work at it, it just mean they know they have a problem.

Then, we move from being convicted we need to change to making a decision to change. In other words, repentance. We are willing to try new actions.

As a mentor, I have frequently assumed that people are actually willing to take specific action steps. Then, I give them action steps and later find out they haven’t done anything.

Whenever I try to jump ahead in the process, it usually doesn’t go well. Here’s a technique that can help.

Importance Scale: How Important Is It?

I’ve started to ask, “On a scale of one to ten, where one is not important and ten is extremely important, how would you rate the importance of changing this behavior?”

This question is great at determining how committed they are to change. It’s not how they answer the question, but it’s your follow up to the question that is important.

Follow up with, “Why are you at a 5 and not a 1?”

Compare their answer to a lower number! This is important.

If I were to ask them why they are at a 5 and not a 10, imagine what their answer would be. It would put them in a position of either defending their answer or blaming their partner. That’s not the dialog I want to have!

If I ask them to compare their answer to a lower number, it will more than likely result in them telling me why they find it important. That will open up a dialog into other reasons to change.

Question to Ask Comment
What would it take for you to move to a higher number? This question makes it more likely for the dialog to be about increasing their commitment to change.
How do you think your spouse would rate this? Gain spousal input. Be sure to ask both of them.
What don’t you like about where you are at now? This creates dialog about the impact of not changing.
What would be the benefit of making this change? This creates dialog about the positive aspects of change.

Remember, even if they know they have a problem, it doesn’t mean that they have decided to change. When you ask these questions, it helps them to become more committed.

Confidence Scale: How Confident Are You?

The other great scale question is, “On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is not at all confident and 10 is extremely confident, how would you rate your confidence in being able to change?”

Why is this important? One of the big reasons that people don’t change is they don’t know how. Even if they have decided to change, they aren’t confident that they can pull it off.

Asking this question can lead into specific steps or skills that could help them.

Question to Ask Comment
Why are you at a 5 and not a 0? Remember to compare their answer to a lower number!
What would it take for you to raise your confidence? This opens up dialog about specific steps.
How might I help you to raise your confidence? This dialog helps them to think through how you can help. It opens up the door for planning action steps.

Tips for Marriage Mentors:

  • Remember the Change Process – People won’t work at changing until they see the importance of it. They have to move from conviction to an actual decision to change.
  • Use the Importance Scale – This can start a dialog about how important this behavior change is to both of them. Be sure to compare their answer to a lower number!
  • Use the Confidence Scale – People don’t change if they don’t know how. Help them to figure out how. Couples may have some of their own ideas about what they can do.


Miller, W. R., & Rollnick, S. (2013). Motivational interviewing: Helping people change. New York: Guilford Press.