How do I make someone talk about an issue when they don’t want to?

That’s the question Lisa* asked me after attending my Don’t Shoot the Messenger workshop.

Lisa was married with four kids and her relationship with her husband was in trouble.

She’d tried to speak with him about their challenges many times, but he point-blank refused to engage.

She asked me what she should do.

The simple answer is you can’t MAKE someone talk about an issue if they don’t want to. You also can’t MAKE them listen to or hear what’s being said.

What you can do though, is influence them by framing the conversation in a way that encourages them to participate.

Here are six tips on how:

  1. Consider the timing. While there’s no ‘right’ time to have a tough conversation, avoid having it in the heat of an argument, in front of others, or when one of you is rushing out the door.
  2. Give them the why. Explain why you want to have the conversation. Make your intention clear – it’s about wanting to improve the situation, not blame and accusations.
  3. What’s in it for me? This is the big one: Tell them how having the conversation will benefit them. What will they get out of having it? How will it help or improve the situation
  4. Manage your emotions. As difficult as it is, model the behaviour you want to see in them. That means being open, curious and calm rather than defensive, aggressive and upset.
  5. Empathise. Put yourself in their shoes and show that you understand this is difficult for them. You might say, “I get that you don’t want to have this conversation” or “I know this is difficult to talk about…”
  6. Outline the next steps. Reinforce why having the conversation is essential to you and make it clear what choice or action you will take if they refuse to engage. This is not about making threats, it’s about being honest and clear about what their decision means for you.

After that, the ball’s in their court. Give them time to process and think about it and then let the chips fall where they may.

You’ve outlined your choice and now it’s time for them to make theirs.

Hopefully, they’ll come to the party and have the tough conversation, but if they don’t and you decide to walk away – from either the conversation or the relationship – you can do so knowing you did everything you could.

*Name changed.


Leah Mether is a communications and soft skill specialist. She works as a speaker, trainer, facilitator, coach and author. Her book Soft is the New Hard: How to Communicate Effectively Under Pressure is described as a masterclass for leaders.

#communication #feedback #courage #empathy #conversation #relationships