How to Handle the Silent Treatment

“A plan in the heart of a man is like deep water, but a man of understanding draws it out.”

Proverbs 20:5

The silent treatment is something we’ve all experienced. It doesn’t matter if it your spouse, your child, or an employee. People have used this approach when they are dealing with how they feel about a situation.

Learning how to deal with people with they are giving you the silent treatment can be the difference between bringing about resolution to an issue, or the silence driving a wedge in the relationship and making things more difficult.

The first thing to be mindful of when a person is giving you the silent treatment is to see if they need time to cool off before talking. One of the biggest mistakes people make when dealing with confrontation, is to try to make someone talk before they are emotionally ready to have a conversation.

If a person says they need time to calm down, or they are angry and trying not to say or do something that they will regret, please honor their request. Give them the space they need to calm down. But the time needed to calm down is not an excuse to not address the issue. Ask for the opportunity to continue the conversation when they are ready.

For some people, the silent treatment is just that. For others, they may resort to a range of behaviors that detract from being able to address the issues at hand. The silence treatment can range in reactions from:

  • silence,
  • incessant talking,
  • slow to offer a response,
  • lack of interest,
  • anger, pessimism and cynicism,
  • blaming and making excuses,
  • and violence

Here are a few ways to handle silence or little communication.

  • Ask open-ended questions to get more of an explanation from them. Statements like, “Tell me more about that…” Asking open-ended questions gives people a chance to slowly open up, which gives you a chance to hear what they are really thinking and feeling.
  • Do not be afraid of silence. Count to 20 before you talk again. A great statement could be, “I’m not sure what your silence means. Tell me what you’re thinking.” Dealing with silence is not easy. But realize that just because they may not be saying anything, it doesn't mean they are not thinking or feeling anything. Give them the space they need to share knowing you are there to listen and support them.

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