Crucial Skills®

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Trainer Insights

What if the other person refuses to open up?

Stacy Nelson

Stacy Nelson is a Master Trainer and Senior Consultant at VitalSmarts.


QWhen trying to commit to seek mutual purpose, what if the other person refuses to open up and share his or her meaning to find and/or create a mutual purpose?

A It can be difficult when the other person seems to be holding back what it is they really want. There are a couple of things you might keep in mind when dealing with this situation.

Sometimes the refusal to open up is a sign others are not feeling safe. One of the first things you may want to do is ask yourself a couple of “heart questions”: A) Do you really care about what they care about? B) Do you really care about them? If you can’t answer in the affirmative for both, you may merely be going through the motions of seeking mutual purpose having failed to start with heart.

Next, keep in mind that you can only do your best to create conditions that make it safe for them to open up. You cannot force them to open up. You cannot dialogue with someone who doesn’t really want to dialogue, but you can demonstrate your willingness to solve the problem by your commitment. Remember that the first step in finding mutual purpose is to “commit to seek.” By definition, “seeking” doesn’t mean this is going to be easy or quick. Demonstrating with heart and actions that you are willing to commit to the time needed for the search can show your level of commitment to the process.

I would also spend time on step # 2 —recognize the purpose behind the strategy. Make the needed effort here to make it clear to others that you really want to better understand what it is they want and why they want it. This is more than merely asking “What do you want?” Take time to dig a little deeper here so that they feel you really want an understanding of their purpose.

If things still are not moving in a direction you feel is productive—if others seem guarded and not willing to open up—you might ask them about the issue from your perspective. You might say: “I’m not sure that I have a better understanding of what you want and why you want it. I could be wrong, but it seems like you may be holding back. Am I doing something that is making it difficult for you to be open and honest with me? If so I would really like to know.”

Since this is a process of seeking, end well by stating that you are willing to continue this search. If the other person would like to think about this a little more and perhaps get back together at some later time, it would be okay with you. This demonstrates your commitment to finding something that will work for both of you.

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