As you probably already know, getting the silent treatment from someone that you care about is a painful ordeal. You may very well have done something that you shouldn’t have and their silence can be a justified psychological attack. Since the silent treatment is, in fact, silent, it becomes difficult to know what exactly you’ve done to deserve it.
Sometimes, the completeness of your goals is postponed by those who fail to respond to your inquiries. You might be looking for some help at work, or waiting on a friend to respond in order to make an accurate reservation at a restaurant. The silent treatment seems to be most painful when you depend on the person ignoring you in some form. It seems that they’re aware of having what you desire, and act to make you wait for it.
This article is about managing the act of receiving the silent treatment.
General approaches which can be utilized notwithstanding whether the silent treatment you receive is backed by emotion, or a simple state of being busy, will be presented below.
Specifically, the guiding principles of eliciting a quicker response, not upsetting those ignoring you, and dissuading future bouts of the silent treatment will govern the words you read below.
Power of Incentive
People respond to you when they have an incentive for doing so. As if it is a direct correlation, the more incentive there is to respond, the faster they will be sending their responses in. Analyze how much incentive you’re giving others to respond to your texts, emails, phone calls, and other requests for their attention. Are your requests simply aimed to benefit yourself or does the person you’re in contact with have an incentive of their own to reply?
It may be difficult to always provide an incentive for others to respond, but you should try to do so with every piece of communication you send out. If you’re consistently asking for things and not offering any incentive in return, you should re-evaluate your habits of doing so.
Put an end to any selfish tendencies you have when communicating with others, and always think of communication as a two-way trade of information, favors, or other forms of value.
When asking for something, always try to offer a thing of your own as a return. If you’re simply looking for attention, focus on providing informative dialogue rather than empty back and forth exchanges. In your personal life, try starting your conversations with useful offerings, tips, and helpful advice rather than an empty, “How’s it going?” Let other people see the benefits of partaking in the events you’re asking them to partake in. Allow them to experience the benefits of being in contact with you. Do the work of presenting, connecting, and making obvious any potential incentives for the behavior which you want others to partake in.
In the professional realm, you can be more explicit with the incentives you provide. If for example, you need to request an export from a database administrator at work, let them know how your work with that export will affect them, the organization as a whole, or a select team. Make sure you do not seem selfish in your requests. If you can’t find a personal incentive for people to latch onto, broaden the scope to include other teams or the organization as a whole.
Incentives can be detailed and explicit as well as broad and generic. An incentive could be, “You doing this will help me get my work done faster so Julie can get to calling clients sooner,” or it could be, “your help with this will enable the marketing team to get a head start on this month’s sales analysis.” There are always incentives to present and dig up, so don’t give up looking for them if you can’t find some within your immediate mental reach. Try to cater to the humanitarian, charitable, and wholesome aspects of the people you’re in contact with.
The Battle of Dependencies
If you suspect to be receiving the silent treatment due to ill will on the part of the person ignoring you, you’ll need to tune your attention to which one of you depends on the other most. The battle of dependencies will dictate whether the person ignoring you will be forced to break their silence.
Ensuring others depend on your input for something or other does well to dissuade people from giving you the silent treatment.
To illustrate the concept of dependencies, consider the following example:
Making a habit of giving your friends a ride to the subway station in the morning will make it difficult for them to ignore you when they deem it to be convenient. Sooner rather than later, they’d depend on your comfortable ride to the subway station and would thereby be forced to break their silence.
When you deem someone to be giving you the silent treatment, map out all the dependencies present on both sides. What do you depend on them for? Do your dependencies have scheduled deadlines?
Ask the same questions from their perspective also. Do they depend on you in any facet? When do their dependencies become critical?
The person who depends on the other more will have the highest interest in breaking the silence.
This battle of dependencies is good to keep in mind when you’re dealing with individuals who have a track record of ignoring you when they so desire. In that case, you’d be able to conveniently ensure that dependencies exist in your relationship with them.
It is also useful to analyze the dependencies between yourself and the individual ignoring you when determining whether you should keep reaching out for an answer. If you have the advantage of being depended on by them in the near future, then you have the luxury of sitting back and waiting for them to act on that dependency.
Your Mission Is Bigger Than Simply Getting a Response
As you pepper your communications to the individual in question with strategically selected incentives to encourage them to reply, you’ll need to keep your demeanor in mind. If the goal at play is truly to encourage quicker replies from the individual, then the most sensible way to act seems to be to downplay how hurt you are by them ignoring you. In order to communicate an unhinged state on your end, have a bigger goal in mind. Rather than focusing on garnering a reply from the person, focus only on completing a mission, in which this individual plays an integral role in making a success.
For example, if the mission you’re trying to complete is one of getting a report handed in on time, then all your commentary on any delays should be pivoted around that specific mission. Refrain from assigning the person who ignored your emails and phone calls any power in their, perhaps intentional, delays. Rather than saying, “What took you so long to respond?” say, “I know I may be being a pest here, but I thought this report would have been submitted by now.”
Another example could be your vet ignoring your inquisitive text messages about your puppy’s illness. They may be hesitant to encourage your consultative inquiries because they aren’t being paid for the time they spend replying to you. In your state of sending continuous unanswered messages, you may be becoming increasingly worried about your puppy’s well-being. The mission you’re attempting to complete there, would be one of ensuring the healthy state of your puppy. Thereby once your vet does respond to your messages and calls, go on to simply focus on the mission at hand. “My puppy’s nose has been running for 4 days now, and I didn’t know what the cause was this whole time. Can you please tell me what you think so I can act on this quicker?”
Continue As If Nothing Happened When They Break Their Silence
Most of the time, we go on to reestablish a communication channel with those who’ve ignored us for a while. It is seldom the case that someone completely dissolves into the abyss as far as we know it. When they do reestablish that communication channel, you’ll feel a strong urge to exclaim how you felt when they ignored your texts and calls.
It is in your best interest to not comment on their alleged act of ignoring you.
The main reason for not showing how hurt you were by someone’s silent treatment is to combat any inkling of malicious intent on their part. By showing someone that you were hurt by their act of remaining silent, you’d acknowledge that method’s effectiveness. In the future, they’d know exactly which buttons they should press in order to bring you pain.
The tendency to ignore their cold shoulder, move past, and focus on the bigger picture isn’t motivated by forgiving, but by dissuading malice.
There are two scenarios under which a person may be ignoring your communication to them. The first scenario, is one of them genuinely being too busy or preoccupied to reply to your calls, texts, or emails. In this case, you taking their acts personally would hurt your cause more than aid it. You being offended will put them on the defensive, as they would interpret you to be overly sensitive and not a valuable person to stay in communication with.
The second scenario, is one in which the person in question willingly ignores your communications to them whilst being motivated from a malicious place. Perhaps they don’t perceive you to be an important individual in their life. Being explicitly offended would thereby validate their malicious ploys to place themselves above you. They’d view any planned maliciousness on their end as having been a success, thereby would be susceptible to repeating it again. They’d notice that their act of ignoring your communications annoyed you, angered you, and made you desperate. If they’re someone who thrives on seeing you in that state, then they’d tend to want that dynamic to repeat.
A less important reason for not commenting on their silence is for the purpose of not voicing assumptions about their intent. Even those who had some malice backing their act of ignoring you will deny that to be the case. By commenting on their desire to hurt you, you’d implicitly accuse them of being malicious. In most cases, that implicit accusation will degrade the future quality of your immediate conversation.
Apologize If Your Wrongdoings Are Brought Up
Your act of continuing like nothing happened after the communication channel is reestablished will entice those who feel wronged by you to voice that feeling. They’d be taken back by you continuing your relationship as if nothing happened. If you suspect to have hurt the person who gave you the silent treatment, be prepared for them to bring it up.
If your wrongdoings were genuinely painful to the individual, apologize and move on. Rather than playing the blame game in the moment, play the long game with the individual at hand. Your act of apologizing for the things which hurt them will encourage an open communication channel between the two of you in the future. Rather than resorting to the silent treatment in the future, this individual will now know that you’re privy to apologizing when you’ve hurt someone’s feelings.
The purpose of this step is to curb the habit of dishing out the silent treatment in those around you. Don’t punish people for expressing that you’ve hurt them by blatantly denying and being upset at their act of being hurt.
Operate to preserve their feelings when their feelings cloud their logic.
Analyze whether you’ll be better off apologizing or risking encourage the behavior of giving you the silent treatment. The suggestion this article makes is that apologizing with the condition that they are more direct with you in the future is the healthiest thing to do.
P.S. Remember That Not Every Act of Silence Is the Silent Treatment
What do you think of people who ignore and never answer my calls, yet call me back after few minutes? In a non-work environment. Been happening since years.
This one’s tricky because it’s likely driven by their self-conscious tendencies surrounding the environments they’re in when you call. They seem to want control over the circumstances of their call with you (who’s around to hear).
I wouldn’t label it as a controlling behavior on their part because most people see receiving calls as more socially rewarding than placing them. A controlling person would let you keep calling, and ignore you multiple consecutive times. So the fact that they’re calling you back minutes later makes me think they’ve either got their phone on silent all the time or run out the room they’re in to call you back.
Reacting to their: 1. Aloofness, 2. Anxiety over being heard by others – can do more harm than good. They’ll get defensive and not much will come about from the intervention. If they’ve got malicious intentions of any sort, they may even be satisfied at affecting you with their behavior.
If you really wanted to change this behavior, the best way is to show them that they’ve missed out on something important because of their initially ignored call. For instance, say you bought an extra sandwich on your way home and wanted to see if they wanted it as you passed by their house. Them missing your initial call made them miss a freebie. You can use something more serious if you want to drive the point home further.