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How to Handle People Who Ignore You – (Ignored Emails, Texts, Phone Calls)

You may be being actively ignored in your personal life or simply need to gather information at a faster rate at work. According to how affected you are by others’ lack of response, the need to comment on the speed of the responses you expect from others is sometimes hard to resist. Though it is sometimes best not to comment and simply plan for this behavior of theirs beforehand, you may decide to address the issue explicitly. So how should you ask for faster replies from others? The specifics of your situation will differ from case to case but here are some overarching guidelines for you to keep in mind when doing so.


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.


Strip Their Cold Shoulders of Their Power

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?” 

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. 


Expecting, Planning, and Punishing

There will be people who do not respond to the incentives for replying quickly that you present. There isn’t much you can do about people like this, and they can have a variety of reasons for not responding to your various forms of communication. You should note down their behaviors in this domain and plan your communication strategy around their behavior the next time you need to communicate with them. Give yourself more time in the future and allow them to feel any victories they may be chasing while still remaining timely with your own tasks.

You can take the approach of punishing this behavior by taking your time with any future requests they come to you with. This isn’t always advisable as you can get into a competition of who can ignore the other more. It can lead to your problems being worsened rather than helped and can be seen as petty behavior on your part. However, sometimes giving others a dose of their own medicine can serve to break the cycle of slow replies they’ve been accustomed to giving. Doing so will show that you value your time as much as they value theirs, and that there is no discrepancy about whose time is more valuable. Their perception of your time will strengthen and you may be able to make them feel as if you’re a partner rather than a mere subordinate when it comes to the value of your time.


Q & A


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.

Book Recommendation:

Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results

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