We have been well-trained to dig into the reasons our clients don’t want to change, but where does that get us? LOTS of “sustain talk”. Sustain talk is all the client discourse about why they don’t want to change. Some of it can be quite strong, for example: “The atmosphere at my workplace is toxic. I don’t think that changing my job will change anything. I will just get bullied no matter where I go.” We’re often afraid that if we ignore that sustain talk, clients may feel dismissed, or their concerns ignored.

We have two choices: 1) we ignore it completely and reply something like: “You’d like to find a better place to work. What would that look like to you?”, or 2) we reflect the sustain talk lightly like this: “You feel like you may get treated badly wherever you go, yet you’d like to find a better place to work. What would that look like to you?” In the first example, if our client goes along with us, we keep guiding them toward their change objective. If they pull us back to their sustain talk, we go back with them and reflect as in the second example. But even reflecting sustain talk is a little like walking backward a few steps before heading forward again. We are likely to get there faster if we only go forward!

Another way to get past sustain talk is to really amplify it, hoping that if we take all the space for the non-change argument, the client will move a little bit toward change. For example, in response to the client saying that there were no jobs available, you might say: “You’ve applied to ALL the jobs for which you’re qualified, even though you’re SURE that no place is hiring right now.” It is possible that the person will respond “Yes, and it is hopeless,” but usually, when faced with a definite statement that what they are saying is not possible, the response sounds more like this: “Well, maybe not ALL of them yet. There are a couple on the other side of town that I could try…”

What may appear to be “brushing off” the client, may actually be helpful if we continue to guide them toward the change they have endorsed.