What to do when he/she won’t talk to you.

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Assuming you want to chat with them.

© Al Turtle 2005

Yellowstone Park, quiet time. Amazingly this is a very common occurrence, and there is something you can do.  I am particularly familiar with this as I am the kind of guy who can talk with someone about intimate subjects for 60 hours, or more, straight.  I can drive everyone crazy, and they didn't use to want to talk with me much. (Also check out my papers on Reliable Membership and on the Testicle Principle.)

Rule: People won't talk cuz they don't feel safe to.

This is a pretty simple and very reliable rule.  I suggest you learn it.  I have found it helps when I want someone to talk to me and they won't.  What is typical for me is to try to push them to talk.  I had tried thousands of ways, it seemed.  My ways never worked.  So finally I accepted the idea that "pushing doesn't work."   Of course many of my pushing techniques were very tricky and subtle.  Still my partner could instantly see, or feel through me and see my pushing.  It just didn't work.

Thus my first task is to start to help them feel safe.  I have found this is both very difficult and easy.  Making anyone feel anything is pretty near impossible.  They will feel what they chose to feel, darn them.   Still there are lots of things that trigger a sense of safety in a person.  And there are lots of things that tend to make a person feel unsafe.  Find 'em. Remove 'em.

So let's look at the situation you are in.  Someone won't talk to you.  Is it that they won't talk to anyone about anything?  Or is it that they won't talk to you, personally?  These are very different situations, and you have to ask yourself which it is. 

If they won't talk to anyone about anything, it may be quite difficult to get them to talk.  Somehow they have probably learned to be unsafe with everyone.  Could easily be that this comes directly from when they were little.  You have to work to overcome that.  It's still possible, just difficult and may take a  long time with a lot of patience.  (Of course, if this is your partner, you picked them.  And this problem is part of your personal challenge in life.)

If they won't talk with just you, I think the situation is easier.  Here's the thought.  You are doing things or have done things, probably lots of things, that tend to make them feel unsafe.  You probably don't know what these things are, but these are actions you "can change."  What you are doing does not work for you.  

Now, remember, what you do is normal for you. You have to identify what those things are that you do, and learn to replace your behaviors with something better – something that works.  Sure this can be difficult, but it is your behavior and therefore you can change it.  You have this power.  (To understand the issues of Safety, click here for many articles.)

Principle #1: Develop and Demonstrate Patience

Probably the first thing you need is to send the message that "you can wait."  That means you need to learn patience.  Now before you decide that this is hopeless, just remember that patience is a set of skills. Patience is a learned thing.  All children are born "impatient."   That's normal.  It is also normal for us to learn "patience," when we grow up.  It is kind of like learning to tie your shoes laces. But some people have not learned patience — YET.   

Patience is the habit of comfort when things don't happen at the pace you desire. Easiest way to learn patience is to spend a large amount of time in a slow situation with people who are already very patient. You can learn it by example. Ask others how they learned it.  You can also take courses in Meditation, Yoga, and many east Asia disciplines.  Practice it.

I still practice intentionally missing traffic lights.  If the light is green, I may slow a little.  If it turns yellow, I really try to stop.  And then I practice enjoying the "tiny vacation" I get while the light is red. 

Principle #2: Invite, instead of Push

This is pretty straight forward.  Learn to never ask questions.  Invite instead.  It sounds like this.  "I was wondering about something you did the other day.  If you ever figure out what was going on for you when you did that, I'd love to hear about it.  In the meantime, let's have dinner."  Notice how these are all statements with no question mark at the end of them.  Many people feel pushed by questions.  Just being asked a question often feels like an attack.  So, just don't do it. (To understand the issue of Pushing, click here.)

Principle #3: Gently Listen

Wow, is this one valuable!  I suggest you show only moderate eagerness when listening, but invite them to say anything they want.  Never interrupt.  Never add more questions.  Just listen and encourage them to say it all. Accept whatever they say.  Never, never, never argue.  Learn Mirroring so as to help train yourself to relax while listening to anything they say.


What to do when he/she won’t talk to you. — 205 Comments

  1. Well first of all thanks for posting this. I wish I had learned my lesson, 15 years ago when I was trying the “push” method to get some young woman to talk to me again, via email. Boy was that DUMB. It almost cost me my job and ruined my life, as she got an attorney and Human Resources involved, as she was not responding to any of my communications in an attempt to get her to communicate with me.

    I’m wiser and would advise that nobody ever try to communicate again with someone of the opposite sex, especially man to woman, after she’s ignored him, or communicated “do not talk to me”. Any communication after that first attempt can be used in COURT against you as Harassment and you can be charged with STALKING (sorry just have to empasize this) – a permanent misdemenor filed on your record – not a good career move! Its embarrassing and shameful to have courts involved, and all your communications aired out in the open for other eyes to see (jury, lawyers, judges, CNN, police, CNN). is it worth it? Most likely NOT! It will cost you not only a black mark on your record, but attorney fees, 5 years of probation and imprisonment, fines, court costs, and shame amongst your family and friends.

    I hope this helps someone else going through this and they realize the ramifications, before going any further. In my case, it was a woman whom I was friends with who also worked at an organization my company was also affiliated with. We had sent each other dozens of emails, had many lunches together, I was in attendance with some of her other friends at some gatherings she organized, and once an evening at her place when she was going thru a tough time with her boyfriend at the time. I think she was fond of me as a friend, like many other guys, but I did some things to burn the bridge and then tried to aplogize, and she didn’t want any further contact, and that was THAT! And I should have left things alone, but I persisted and soon HR got involved and they warned me that she was getting legal counsel and they would have to terminate me if anything went further or she took legal action, which was well within her right, from the evidence that was presented to them.

    Going forward 15 years, I’m married, I have a wonderful wife and son, a nice job and home, and am very happy , but if legal action had taken place, my life would be very different today. I haven’t given much though to her lately, and figured I’d never see her again, but last month, I was in confession line at a chapel, with my son, and this woman obviously didn’t recognize me (I’m put on 100 lbs in the last 15 years!) and at first I didn’t recognize her either – and she asked, “Is there a priest hearing confessions in there?” And I went into “yes there is, there’s a guy who’s been in there awhile and he would be done any minute now”, but I was just shocked to even see her – she was supposed to have moved away thousands of miles with her husband to the other side of the country and of all places she was talking to me? I was in total shock thinking, “Holy cow she looks like this person…” and I thought my eyes were playing tricks and I moved my head closer to her to see better … It was weird for me and I’m sure weird for her, as she probably realized it was me, this person she had issues with 15 years ago, after a few seconds..

    Anyway, don’t worry, I will NOT be talking to this person again for ANY REASON. Let that can of worms stay in the ground. I found out from a friend that she has indeed moved back to the area with her family.. I just have to say that I’m eternally grateful that she didn’t pursue legal action against me for all the attempts I made to contact her after she was flat out ignoring me.

    Here is the law, that I wish I had known more about and wish I hadn’t had to learn the hard way!!!! Boy was I Dumb… and I think anyone who goes against this legislation is acting dumb, also. Be careful and don’t do it! Nobody is worth that kind of trouble. Find other friends, get a hobby, get shock therapy, get therapy in general if that’s what it takes, but whatever you do, leave that person the heck alone, or you may very well suffer the consequences of court action, and be sued – and if you’re lucky you’ll have money in the bank and she’ll accept a settlement of a million dollars or more and it doesn’t go to court. But in most cases, people aren’t rich, and it goes to court and guy is SOL.

  2. Hello,
    I have this friend that I have been friends with for a long time. We are both in relationships with other people but there may be feelings there on both sides. Recently I reached out to him after not talking for 4 years. He would talk to me on the phone on my drive home from work. He has always told me to come and see him and has told me he loves me but I never did anything about it. My fiancée found out that I was talking to him because in an argument I told him which was dumb on my part. My friend told me he does not want to talk to me right now and told me to figure out what I am doing with my fiancée and let him figure out his stuff. I have been trying to talk to him because I miss him so much and actually realized im in love with him but he will not answer. Do i just need to give him his space and wait? He is deploying in January for 6 months and I would like us to be speaking again before he leaves. He is also not happy in his relationship and has not been for a long time and she knows he is not happy.

    • For me, KM, I was pretty confused by your posting. I’m imagining you and the others in you story are confused. I learned a long time ago if I want clarity, temporarily stop focusing on others and ask myself what I want. I think your friend has a good idea. Get clarity about your fiancée. The quickest and least expensive way to Vintage Love is through working with the one you got, not the one in the bushes Seems to me. This love thing seems magical but is really a matter of work. Move toward fixing the stuff going wrong with your fiancé Just my guess.

    • When is your wedding? Sounds like a real mess. You should delay the wedding until you figure things out or break it off – just a suggestion. Get some counseling from someone you trust IRL – another woman. If you’re missing this other dude that much, then its not fair to the guy you’re getting married to. You may never end up with this guy being deployed, but either way, ask yourself, if you broke up with your fiancee, would you miss him too or as much? Why are you getting married?

  3. Hi Al.
    My problem is more trivial than most, but I was hoping you could give me some advice. I was friends with a girl at work, we got on well but then after a disagreement she began to distance herself from me. Me being me I wanted to patch up any problems but only seemed to make matters worse. I see her at work probably four or five times a day and she will usually avoid me now. If we pass each other I will say hello and she will say hello back but I don’t push her for a conversation (she normally gives me short one word answers if I try for a conversation with her). After six months of this I have accepted that the friendship was never meant to be but I will always try to be civil. My problem comes from the fact that occasionally she will approach me and talk as if we never had a problem and I feel that things are improving only for her to go back to avoiding and silent treatment again. Do you have any idea why she does this? If she doesn’t want to talk to me that’s fine I will accept it but it is so confusing when she blows hot then cold.
    Thank you.

    • Hi Steve, I’m off for two weeks of vacation in Mexico. Since she switches clearly I bet this is something about her. Probably 30 years from now in your marriage she’ll still switch. But then you’ll understand why and be used to it. Remember all people make sense all the time. Good luck.

  4. Hello,

    Even though we are not together, we talk every day through phone and text, see each other at work and even go to church together. All of a sudden without anything she stopped talking, it’s going on 3 days, should I still wait on her to say something?

    • My guess is she’s trying to get your attention. It’s worth a lot to find out why someone you chat with each day, tries to get your attention. So my thought, based on my experiences only, is to shift from chatting at her to listening to her. So don’t push. I’d wait for a week before I’d reach out to her and even then go slowly. Here’s piece I wrote on this. Out of the Blue My only clue was your phrase “without anything”. So this is a “without anything you were aware of” situation.

      Of course I may be off, on this. Good luck.

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