What to do when he/she won’t talk to you.
Assuming you want to chat with them.
© Al Turtle 2005
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.
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Someone misunderstood me. Now every time I try to talk to them about the misunderstanding, they refuse to talk to me. It’s terrible that we can go a whole life time not communicating with people on the basis of one person’s perception. You can only say you are sorry in hopes that works for them to come back to you. Life is too short, if the threads of an argument or misunderstand never pull straight, it’s a waste of energy that rests on troubled mind…. and maybe just the person who wants to contact. Thus, heartbreak.
I wish we were all brought up in a culture that didn’t train us to use
Bullying in our normal communication. As we learn, we discover people don’t understand us AND we’ve driven them away. Wildly dis functional! Oh well. Gotta make mistakes in order to learn. Keep a going.
This is an issue that has been in a long time not discussed. My daughter is very closed off. She is rather cold for me that says she loves me. I’ve always thought we were close but now I don’t feel close. She is 45. She remembers her dad and I fighting a lot and her brother consoling her. I don’t remember his incidences. It is very painful to bring up and maybe we don’t really need to talk about it. Should I find a time ? How do I get closure in this?
Hi Lynn, my general rule is that it is always better to talk about it than to be silent. Closure likely comes after you really understand her sense and she understands yours.
In 3-5 years from now, hopefully we can all look back at this topic and it won’t even matter, anymore, a person we were feeling bad about not talking to us… I recommend every January, just write those people off and embrace new folks that come into your life, and forget the rest.