Crucial Skills®

A Blog by Crucial Learning

Crucial Conversations for Accountability

When Others Refuse to Communicate

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

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 Accountability, 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,

You can learn more insights and skills like this in Crucial Conversations for Accountability

24 thoughts on “When Others Refuse to Communicate”

  1. Aysha

    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,

    1. Josiah Mann

      Totally agree Aysha. I just discovered the blog and newsletter, but the book has been invaluable to me.

      1. heatherfencl

        Bring Back Ex Lover Husband Wife, Boyfriend, Girlfriend email Robinson buckler@ gmail (.) com

  2. Reta

    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.

    1. John Shoucair

      Reta, I think your observation of how introverts might prefer to relate is right on the mark. Thank you for pointing that out. It suggests that there is nothing “wrong” with the introvert and we should always plan for a second conversation.

  3. Amanda

    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. Annoyed with extroverts

    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..

    1. bluecebu

      Wow! I believe you went kind of far, in saying she deserves what she gets, for being an insensitive clod. You know nwither of the parties, nor what she wants to talk about. Could be, they are “pushing boundaries” by using silent treatment! Words mean a lot! Peace.

      1. K. Elizabeth Jean

        I have to agree with you but, can also see from someone who is introverted that it can sometimes be over bearing to have someone want to always address things…. On the other side, I have been in conflict with a co-worker who always pulls the “ignore card” as a tactic to “resolve things.” I don’t appreciate that she uses this because I feel that sometimes not saying anything, leads to more conflict. There is a fine line of knowing when things need to be said and when they don’t. Usually, if it bothers me for more than a day than something needs to be said BUT, if I have tried talking with the person already more than a few times I might revert to avoiding the conversation until they decide to speak up. You need to give the person an honest chance to be open and if they choose not to, then they have chosen their path. Thank you for sharing.

    2. Bebe eee

      YOu are a moron for giving this advice. YOu are insensitive and clearly this is YOU who doesn’t want to talk.U ARE COLD AND AN IDIOT

  5. AndrewCharlton

    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.

  6. bluecebu

    I am the same. We cant change people. One of my fav prayers is, God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change. The courage to change the things I can. And the wisdom to know the difference.

    1. K. Elizabeth Jean

      Yes, yes, and yes. This prayer has carried me through many struggles.

  7. Changing is a Part of Life | Annie's Amazing Blog

    […] from her peers and they stare at her because of her looks. Marina is scarred, in shock, and refuse to speak to others. Which even leads Marina to a worse state. Also, she despises her father who poured acid on her. […]

  8. Voiceless | Diana's blog

    […] from her peers and they stare at her because of her looks. Marina is scarred, in shock, and refuse to speak to others. Which even leads Marina to a worse state. Also, she despises her father who poured acid on her. […]

  9. Regina Nicholson

    THANKYOU,today is my nephews birthday, same birth month ,day after mine, have had any kind of connect since he was 9yrs old,he now his 30’s ,his is mother way, we were pretty close,she doesn’t want to connect with anyone . I’m trying.

  10. Victor

    What if I never had a problem with talking to people, and then all of a sudden I have a problem with one

  11. Windsaar

    “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.”

    Nowhere did it seem to be indicated that it was because your grand debating skills that she didn’t want to talk with you.

    She seems to have said — in plain English — that she was tired of hearing the same two topics getting brought up over and over again.

    “Sometimes we think we’re so good at debating that we completely ignore what the other party is actually saying in order to chalk any discrepancies up to our superior skills”.

  12. Kim Valcourt

    No, this wasn’t helpful in my situation. My adult child and his wife refuse to respond to me at all. Over a text message I had with a different son. Not even their conversation. I have called to talk to them about it for clarity to explain what was said because they ate reading it out of context. I have written messages texted and sent cards and even letters through mail its been 6 months and I’m jot even allowed to see my grandchildren. Theses are great methods but none will thaw the frozen responce

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  16. Jeff Grigg

    It occurs to me that in a work situation, I can easily imagine situations where I might be very defensive about deep questioning of my feelings.

    I am inclined to think that in a work situation, you (the employer) pays me (the worker) to *DO* things.

    Now expecting me to have the feelings you want me to feel, or to have the beliefs that you want me to have, or to believe in whatever set of “alternative facts” you wish to impose on me could violate my freedom of religion, and my freedom to know and believe and feel however I do, without arbitrary work consequences.

    If I do what I’m paid to do, and do it well, then what gives my employer the “right” to pry into my feelings, thoughts, and beliefs?

    If an employer wants to know such things, and thinks it would be helpful, which it may be, then they need to create a trusting environment and *earn* the trust of the employee. Expecting that an employee is obligated to share their feelings with you because you feel it would be best for them may violate what I consider an appropriate part of an employment agreement.

  17. Jeremy Anderson Thompson

    Right now I would like my mom to not be talking to me and not coming in my room anymore.

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