Featured image for When Others Refuse to Communicate
Crucial Accountability QA

When Others Refuse to Communicate

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Al Switzler

Al Switzler is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Change Anything, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, and Influencer.

READ MORE

Crucial Confrontations

Q  Dear Crucial Skills,

I have attended Crucial Conversations Training and try to practice the skills, but it’s difficult when the person I am trying to communicate with doesn’t “play along.” For example, when I try to ask how he or she is feeling or why he or she feels a certain way, I receive a response such as, “I don’t know,” or, “I don’t want to talk about this.” This ends the conversation and I feel stifled and defeated.

What do I do?

Playing Along

A Dear Playing Along,

It is very frustrating when you want to talk something out with someone and the only response you get is, “I don’t know,” or “I don’t want to talk about this,” or worse, an icy-cold stare laced with a fake smile. I hear you. I’ve been there.

So what should you do when the other person won’t play along?

I think you have an advantage—you’re motivated and able because you’ve gone through the training and practiced your skills. Good job.

Whether it’s at work or at home, you feel the need to hold a crucial conversation and the other person won’t talk to you. He or she won’t engage and won’t “play along.” What I hope to provide here are tips that might give you some additional options for reaching dialogue with a stubborn companion.

1. Start with heart. I suggest you Start with Heart and ask yourself, “What nonverbal messages am I sending?” Sometimes we have behaviors—subtle or overt—that demonstrate our purpose or intent more loudly than our words. A common pattern is to start a conversation very pleasantly and nicely but then quickly let our emotions escalate as we press for the solution we want. Or sometimes before we even open our mouths, we enter a conversation with our eyes and gestures signaling, “I have held court in my head and found you guilty; let’s talk.” When that happens, other people don’t want to play. These kinds of patterns cause people to disengage from the conversation.

Here’s a personal example. Years ago, my third daughter found every excuse to avoid talking with me. She was fourteen years old and all I got was a cold shoulder. Finally, I asked her why she was acting that way around me, and in a tender moment, she opened up. She shared with me that no matter what I asked her—whether it was about school, friends, or something else entirely—I always, always got around to discussing just two topics, her grades and her messy room.

Sometimes, we are so good at debating that the other person prefers to disengage or stonewall rather than argue. Make sure you get your emotions in control before you open your mouth. Make sure you build Mutual Purpose and Mutual Respect before you begin and work to maintain both throughout the conversation. The other person needs to know you have a mutual purpose rather than a selfish or opposing one.

2. Choose CPR. We often find that people choose the wrong topic to discuss. When having a crucial conversation, we tend to choose simple over complex; recent over distant; and easy over hard. In reality, we need to discuss the right issue instead of the most convenient one. We use the acronym CPR to help you determine what the right issue really is. C stands for content and deals with the immediate incident or concern. P stands for pattern and references the fact that the immediate incident has actually occurred more than once and probably frequently enough to make you upset. R stands for relationship and is a conversation you hold when you realize that the pattern is so pervasive and unwanted that it is now affecting your thoughts, feelings, and interactions with that person.

You need to hold a conversation not about the content, but about the pattern you’re experiencing—the way in which you two talk, or don’t talk. You need to explain the pattern you’ve noticed and how it’s affecting your relationship. I can see the conversation going like this: “Bob, every once in a while, I feel the need to talk about an issue here at work. The last two times I have tried to talk to you, you said, ‘I don’t know,’ and ‘I don’t want to talk about that.’ I know having conversations about issues like budget or deadlines can be tough. I don’t want to make it tough. I want to be able to talk about these issues so we can work together in the most effective way. Why do you think it’s difficult for us to have these talks? What’s going on?”

If the person still refuses to talk, I’d ask, “Will you please think about it? I don’t want to make you uncomfortable. I do want to deal with some of these issues so we can work well together. Can we schedule a time tomorrow to meet and talk about our working relationship?”

3. Explore natural consequences. In Crucial Confrontations, we teach the difference between imposed and natural consequences. So far, I’ve only introduced the natural consequences of being unable to communicate. Helping people understand what will happen naturally if you don’t deal with the issues is an educational step that motivates them to comply. For example, you could explain how the lack of talking about issues is affecting colleagues, deadlines, budgets, and customers. If your colleague still won’t comply, then you’d impose a consequence. In this case, you’d probably ask someone else to help or communicate the situation to your boss and ask her to convene a meeting.

4. Use your skills; keep your cool. When you have situations like the one you’ve described, it’s easy to slip into less than helpful behaviors. Make sure you avoid gossiping about the other person, getting angry and flying off the handle, or withholding information or avoiding the other person.

What you do when it matters most will determine the results you achieve, the relationships you build, and how you feel about yourself when you look in the mirror. Inviting people to dialogue, being persistent and patient, and maintaining your professionalism will eventually pay big dividends.

While I believe you can make progress and there is great potential in your relationship, I will close by saying that not all conversations work. You can’t always get into them and you can’t always get the things you want out of them. However, crucial conversations skills improve your chances of getting results and building and preserving valuable relationships.

Best wishes,
Al

Headshot

Al Switzler

Al Switzler is a New York Times bestselling author, keynote speaker, and leading social scientist for organizational change. For thirty years, Al has delivered engaging keynotes for an impressive list of clientele including AT&T, Xerox, IBM, and Sprint. Al’s work has been translated into twenty-eight languages, is available in thirty-six countries, and has generated results for three hundred of the Fortune 500. read more

5 thoughts on “When Others Refuse to Communicate”

  1. I read every newsletter of Crucial Conversations ardently and look forward to the next one.

    I must say, you all are helping people live a better Life. Your answers are so clear and simple to assimilate. And truly I see spirituality reflect from your guidance. May God continue to bless you all with this wisdom and enable you to make this world a better place.

    Heart full of gratitude,

  2. I have learned that a more introverted person prefers to be made aware of the topic of the conversation and planning on booking a time to converse on the topics gives them mental time to prepare for the conversation. If they feel caught off gaurd, they will naturally not wish to discuss something they are unprepared for. I have been helped enormously by reading “The Introvert advantage” along with “Crucial Conversations” as it has helped with understanding others needs based on their personality type.

  3. I have been off and on with my daughter’s father for almost six years now. And it’s always bee said to me that its supposed to be actions speak louder than words. But when you have half and half actions, words become necessary. And he is VERY unapproachable about the topic of, plainly, what page are we actually on.
    I don’t have the nerve to approach him in person about it because my previous boyfriend used to beat me for things like that. and my daughter’s father completely ignores those texts… I donr care what his answer is specifically, just more of having the answer, so that i can start to heal and put my or our life together…
    How do I gently but firmly get him to talk to me about it?

  4. Maybe the person just doesn’t want to talk to you, period. For whatever reasons they have. If it’s not crucial that you talk to them, why don’t you just leave them alone? Some people are just introverted, and do not want to talk. Not everyone wants or needs, to be your friend. If you insist on engaging them in conversation when they clearly don’t want to, that’s you, encroaching on their boundaries, and you deserve the silent treatment, for being an insensitive. pushy clod..

  5. This has certainly helped me realize that trying to understand people with logic is futile, I have tried for years and the only thing I found was frustration. People just don’t want your advice, they just want to be heard, but for me, it’s painful when I feel the answer to their problem is there, obvious, just waiting for them to grab it and solve their misery. But oh well, I guess I will have to adapt and develop skills, I can’t change people, I can only change myself.Thanks for sharing all that great information.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *