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. — 203 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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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