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This is one of a series
of brief articles on how to respond effectively
to annoying social behavior. An "effective response"
occurs when you get your
primary needs met
well enough, and both people feel
This article offers (a) perspective on
"no communication," and (b) illustrates
possible effective responses to someone who "doesn't
communicate." It assumes
you're familiar with...
This brief YouTube video offers options for relating to
Have you thought or said recently of someone
"S/He didn't reply to my call / email / card /
question? Have you tried to start a
conversation with someone who responds with
silence, grunts, shrugs, and/or few words? What
do you usually feel with such an
"unresponsive" adult or child? Are you
Face to face, adults, kids, and infants
unconsciously decode meanings from each other
via words + voice dynamics + body language. So
who is silent, motionless, and expressionless
situationally or often seems "unresponsive."
They may be dubbed inscrutable, unreadable,
phlegmatic, unemotional, unavailable, guarded,
Early in life we're taught that ignoring other
people is "impolite" and "disrespectful." So
when we get "no response' from someone, we're
apt to feel hurt, resentful, disrespected,
frustrated, and perhaps puzzled. Some people are
naturally taciturn and terse, and others
Premise - someone may be "unresponsive" when
s/he isn't aware
of any thoughts or feelings, and/or...
doesn't know what to say or do (is
is distracted or
overwhelmed by something, and can't say so.
you felt any of these recently?
these occur and the person doesn't tell us, we
must guess what "no response" means.If we know the person well, we may guess
accurately. If not, we risk mis-assumptions
unless we verify them.
People who often feel notably anxious, uneasy,
or pessimistic with unresponsive kids or adults
are apt to be
(psychologically wounded). Could this describe
Such people are apt to assume "no response"
means "I don't care about / like / respect /
notice / you" instead of the causes above.
That can cause hurt, resentment, distrust, anger
- specially if they have reason t distrust the
impossible to "not communicate," because
we may unconsciously assume meanings
silence and an expressionless face and body.
Example: if a good friend doesn't return your
call, text, or email, you may assume that means
s/he doesn't care much about you, or s/he's
pretending to care. The truth may be that s/he
had some trauma or became ill. Are you aware of
how you decode silences or "no responses"?
Considering all these factors, how can you
respond effectively to an unresponsive person?
If you know one, keep him or her in mind as you
Useawareness to notice (a) when someone is
"unresponsive," and (b) how you feel
around them. Your emotions point to
what you need. Example: frustration
points to a need to get information from the
person, or to accept that you can't.
Identify what you need with or from the
person, specifically - e.g. to vent?
To offer feedback or confront? To cause
change? To set or enforce a limit? To
problem-solve? Something else?
what you need, select a response like these:
you can't or won't disclose what you're
thinking and feeling, I feel ________."
"Can you tell me
what you need from me right now?"
"When you answer
me with just one or two words and no eye
contact, I feel _________."
"If I'm doing
anything that makes you feel uncomfortable,
will you tell me?"
"I notice you
need to be silent now."
"When you say 'I
don't know' so often, I feel impatient and
frustrated (or ________)."
"I notice you're breathing very
shallowly. Are you aware of that?" (This can mute current emotions).
"Your voice is
very flat and emotionless."
distracted by something now, (Name)?"
"What would you
like to be doing now?"
"I noticed when
you talk about ______, you become vey
animated and expressive."
Notice the theme of these examples - brief,
direct, respectful, and factual. Adapt this
to your communication style in forming your own
responses. Can you imagine how an unresponsive
person would react to messages like these? Some
people will "resist" - i.e. deny, argue,
challenge, or shut down. Handle normal
resistances like these with calm, respectful
Then repeat your response, until your needs are
filled or they change.
If your true Self is disabled, your ruling
subselves may react to significant
unresponsiveness like these:
"Cat got your tongue?"If said sarcastically, this can feel like a
"What do I have to do to get you to
open up?" Disrespectful aggression.
"You're about as expressive as a tree
stump." A disrespectful
Anyone home in there?"
"(Name), you ever thought what the
kids are learning from your silences, or how
they feel?"Emotionally-loaded criticism, not win-win
"Getting you to
talk is like pulling teeth!"
criticism and complaining.
"You're hopeless. I can't talk to
you."A shaming "you" message.
Bottom line - you have many
constructive response options if someone is
silent or unresponsive with you. Keep the
possible reasons for their behavior in mind -
specially with kids. Avoid (a) assuming they're
unresponsive "on purpose," and (b) jumping to
conclusions about their intentions or attitudes.
This is one of a series of brief articles suggesting
effective ways to respond to common irritating social
problems. This article offers perspective on
"unresponsiveness," and illustrates ways to
respond effectively to an unresponsive person. The ways are