How To Communicate With People Who Withdraw And Don’t Respond
This is part five in my six-part series on how to communicate with people in distress.
Some people in distress isolate and withdraw, turning inward and shutting down. They appear to be disconnected from reality and can become unresponsive in deep distress. They may start projects but not finish them, spinning their wheels for extended periods of time. They often forget to take care of themselves or their responsibilities, and don’t ask for help, so it’s easy to forget about them.
The back story
Behind the scenes, people who withdraw and stay silent often need solitude, rather than isolation, to recharge their batteries. Instead of being left alone, they need clearly defined time and space to themselves with the assurance that others will reconnect with them and tell them what to do next. With adequate direction, they work well alone. When direction and structure are lacking it’s easy for them to get passive as if they are waiting for someone to tell them what to do.
These people are naturally reflective, imaginative, and calm. They have an amazing inner imagination that flourishes best when there aren’t a lot of distractions and social interactions. The dilemma these people face is that while they need solitude, they also need direction. They are happy to receive direction from others. When they are alone and faced with an independent decision to make, however, they must either give themselves direction to decide, or risk withdrawing and passively waiting for someone or something else.
If this is you
- Remind yourself that you are capable of giving yourself directions when faced with important decisions.
- Ask for direction. Surround yourself with people you trust to tell you what to do.
- Schedule blocks of time to spend by yourself getting solitude. At the park, with your musical instrument or hobby, fishing, or whatever recharges you.
- It’s OK to say no to social activities if they drain your battery.
- Use commands instead of questions, e.g. instead of asking “What time are you going to be done?” say, “Tell me when you will be done.”
- Give these people plenty of uninterrupted blocks of solitude.
- When delegating work, break down jobs into a few discrete steps, give them directions, then leave them alone.
- Tell them when to come back, or check in on them periodically.
- Remind them of deadlines and responsibilities.
- Don’t expect lots of socializing and small talk.
This article is part five in a series on how to communicate with people in distress, starting with six tips for staying sane when others are acting crazy. Read all six articles to discover why people act the way they do in distress, and how you can communicate to make a positive difference.
This series is based on our work using the Process Communication Model, a research-tested framework for understanding and communicating with different personality types, in and out of distress.