Introduction: This is part of series I am entitling, “Stoking the Fire by Using the Rainbow Bridge.”  The general idea is that the colors of the rainbow can be used like stepping stones which help people cross over from a lackluster life to living life fully alive. 

Note: Last week I wrote a blog entitled, “Blocks to Communication.”  When I was at a training last week (about how trauma affects people’s behavior), and the topic of the communication process during the restorative justice phase came up, I realized I never posted on my Blog what to do when someone won’t communicate.  So, here is the follow up to that blog post, which you can click here if you missed the original introduction.

What if someone doesn’t want to communicate?

One of the worst things people in any type of relationship can do is to stop the line of communication.  Imagine a sewage (or ejector pump) in a home that gets clogged… or that stops working. What would happen?  A mess! Relationships are no different! Strong, consistent, compassionate communication allows the emotions of all parties to flow freely, rather than creating pent up emotions that explode, leaving nothing but a big mess and hurt feelings behind.   Therefore, when the lines of communicate stop, it’s time to consider how to fix the problem. Below are the top tips on how to make that happen:

  • Know your why:  Do you want to talk in order to accuse and belittle the person you want to talk to or to  figure out (from their point of view)  why they may be displaying cold-shoulder behavior?


  • Check Yourself: Before attempting to talk to someone else… check yourself.  Are you calm or still angry? Will your tone be polite or accusatory? Is your posture open or closed? Tone and Body Language is 90% of communication.  Also people tend to mirror the behavior and attitude of the other person they are interacting with. So if your tone is harsh and closed off, so too the persons to whom you are trying to communicate with.  Yet if your tone is calm and caring (and your body language is open), even if the other person doesn’t start off that way, watch their tone and body language change to mimic yours.  This is what psychologists refer to as co-regulation.
  • Be ready to be open: Be ready to see the situation from another point of view, rather than your own–theirs. All feelings are valid, whether or not you feel their perception of them is not.  Sometimes it is easy to see things from another’s point of view, which may in turn, cause you to change yours. Other times it is difficult and you agree to disagree.


  1. Perform a little CPR:
    1. Concern- be ready to address the concern by using I statements: “I feel the need to talk about a situation where….”
    2. Pattern – Identify the pattern that seems to be preventing communication, “the last two times when I tried to talk about this situation, you said “I don’t know” or “I don’t want to talk about this.”
    3. Relationship – focus on a common purpose or vision that will move the relationship forward by also asking for their point of view, “I know talking about this can be tough, I don’t want it to be tough, but I want to address it so that our relationship can move forward.  Why do you think this topic is so tough to talk about?”
  1. Make it Mutual: After having the conversation, see if you (and all parties involved) can come to a mutual agreement on how to best move forward.


If they still won’t talk:  Give them time to RECOVER

R – Review the Goal: “My hope is that we can talk about this again later so that we can solve this problem and keep our relationship moving forward.

E – Extend the Space and Time:   “I can see you need some space and time to think about this.  I will give you…. (60 minutes, 24 hours – be specific) to think about this.  I would like to meet you back (set location) at (set time) so we can talk about this again.  Then…leave!

Note:  The shortest amount of time I would recommend for reconnection is one hour.  This is about how long it takes for brain chemicals to switch back from the irrational part of the brain (which is where thoughts can go when someone is “triggered”) back to the rational thinking part of their brain.

C – Consistent:  Be consistent with communication as well as with following through on reconnecting back.   

O – Overview: When you reconnect back, allow the person you are trying to communicate with to try to give an overview of what situation is not going well in the relationship.  This will allow you to see if they heard you correctly as well as have you hear it from their point of view.

V – View (Preview) a Consequence:  If the person still refuses to communicate during the second check back, preview a consequence,

  • Personal Example: “I know this conversation is tough, but if we don’t talk about it I feel as though if it is not addressed we are going to continue to be angry with each other which will cause…(fill in the blank: anxiety, depression, loneliness, us to turn to others for support, if we can’t resolve this issue, perhaps we need time apart,  etc.)
  • Business Example:  “I know this conversation is tough, but if we don’t address it (address the specific issue: your missed deadlines, your lack of effort, your attitude towards your teammates, etc…) will cause (state the effect: will cause the company to lose customers/money, will cause your team to not trust you, etc.) which could lead to…. (a note in your personal file, your dismissal).

E – Encourage: After previewing the consequence follow it up with encouragement, “I would rather we talk about this and move forward so that we can…

  • Personal example: feel (fill in the blank: happy, connected, etc.)
  • Business example:  avoid write ups or dismissals.

R – Review and Replay – If a conversation was able to be had, have each member involived review their understanding of what the problem was and how it will now be resolved moving forward.  

Restorative Justice questions can be very helpful during this time as they are non judgemental and open up lines of communication that help both people see a situation from both (or multiple) points of view:

  • What happened?
  • Why do you think that is?
  • How are you and others affected?
  • What has been the hardest part for you in this?
  • What can we do to make this right?

If a conversation was not had, review the consequence and encouragement and/or put the consequence into place, if applicable. 

Communication can be hard, but having a plan and formula in place can help ease and open the lines of communication back up so that compassionate, strong relationships can continue to thrive.