At Crucial Learning, we’re committed to helping everyone build healthy personal and professional relationships through having crucial conversations—conversations where stakes are high, opinions differ, and emotions run strong.
But what do you do when the other party doesn’t want to talk? Can you convince your counterpart to engage? Maybe, but your success will depend less on what you say to them and more on what you say to yourself.
First, check your story. Do you consider your co-worker unintelligent, delusional, or mean? Perhaps you’ve drawn these conclusions from talking with others or from your own observations. Regardless of the source, these opinions will color your interactions.
Are there other possible explanations for their behavior or other ways of thinking about it? Imagine how differently you’d approach someone if you considered them overworked, unsupported at home, or suffering from an illness. Small shifts in the stories we tell ourselves can radically alter our behavior.
Second, check your motives. Years ago, I started a business with a friend, but within a year we were estranged. I went to our warehouse one day to pick up some products and found the locks had been changed. When I tried to call my friend, he wouldn’t answer. A mutual friend had to mediate and settle the dispute between us.
The business partner moved to another state, and several months passed. At first, I felt victimized and vindicated for my ill feelings. But in time and through much reflection, I was able to appreciate why my friend had taken that course of action.
One night while out jogging, I bumped into him. He was in town and happened to be on my neighbor’s porch visiting. I gathered my thoughts, walked up, apologized, asked for forgiveness, and extended my right hand. I no longer wanted to defend or accuse or debate or question; I wanted to reconcile.
He shook my hand and also apologized. Our exchange lasted sixty seconds, but in that short span a burden was lifted from me, and I suspect from him, too. I think if I had any motive other than apologizing in that moment, the interaction wouldn’t have gone smoothly.
What I’m saying is this: Motive can make the difference. Why do you want to talk with your counterpart? Do you want to hold them responsible, explain your own reasoning, or help the organization you both work for?
Look inward. Your motive will speak louder than the words you say.
Finally, consider letting go. There’s a human desire to resolve tension whenever it arises, with whomever it arises. But most of the interpersonal problems we face are merely questions of perspective. They almost always go away when we let go. In other words, when we stop thinking of the other person as a problem, we no longer experience a problem.
There’s an edict implicit in crucial conversations: Change what you want to when you can, and when you can’t, accept it. This is not a euphemism for acquiescing. It’s a sign of responsibility. Learning to accept those unchangeable aspects of life we’d rather not, including other people, is necessary for personal growth.
It may turn out that you can’t connect with some people in your life, but why not choose to increase your odds, should you try? And don’t forget that the last strategy is to accept things as they are. Move on and decide to grow.