Background Although patients with asthma would like more involvement in the decision-making process, and UK government policy concerning chronic conditions supports shared decision making, it is not widely used in practice. Objective To investigate how nurses approach decision making in relation to inhaler choice and long-term inhaler use within a routine asthma consultation and to better understand the barriers and facilitators to shared decision making in practice. Setting and participants Semi-structured interviews were conducted with post-registration, qualified nurses who routinely undertook asthma consultations and were registered on a respiratory course. Interviews were recorded, transcribed and analysed using the Framework approach. Results Twenty participants were interviewed. Despite holding positive views about shared decision making, limited shared decision making was reported. Opportunities for patients to share decisions were only offered in relation to inhaler device, which were based on the nurse's pre-selected recommendations. Giving patients this 'choice' was seen as key to improving adherence. Discussion There is a discrepancy between nurses' understanding of shared decision making and the depictions of shared decision making presented in the academic literature and NHS policy. In this study, shared decision making was used as a tool to support the nurses' agenda, rather than as a natural expression of equality between the nurse and patient. Conclusion There is a misalignment between the goals of practice nurses and the rhetoric regarding patient empowerment. Shared decision making may therefore only be embraced if it improves patient outcomes. This study indicates attitudinal shifts and improvements in knowledge of 'shared decision-making' are needed if policy dictates are to be realised.