In Art Of Coaching Podcast, Podcasts

Have you ever been in a tough conversation with someone who just withdrew or shut down?  

Relationships and communication are a lot like an iceberg.  There’s often more going on beneath the surface that we can’t see or prepare ourselves for, eventually leading to an unexpected and harmful crash.  

Today’s episode will improve your knowledge and understanding of why people shut down AND give you tools to navigate the crash.  Tune in for:

  • What stonewalling is and key behaviors to look out for
  • What we can do as leaders to get out of our own way
  • Tips to think outside of the box for unexplored strategies for progress
  • Pros and cons to common advice or relationship hacks

Referenced Resources:

We are fully aware of our scope of practice and this podcast is discussing general communication strategies around stonewalling and shutting down.  If you are in an abusive relationship we urge you to reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline by phone at 1-800-799-SAFE or online at If you are listening outside of the US, seek local resources for support.

We often use case studies generated from listener emails, as well as real life scenarios we’ve dealt with through our mentoring program.  If you’d like 1-on-1 guidance from our team, reach out to us today at and let us know you’re interested in our mentoring program.  We will let you know what the next steps are from there!

If you are dealing with similar situations like the ones discussed in today’s episode, get guidance, practice, feedback, and PRACTICAL SOLUTIONS at The Apprenticeship.  Our next workshop is in beautiful Phoenix, AZ, and the early bird special is only available for 9 more days!  Don’t miss out on your chance to SAVE $150! 

Keep an eye on all of our Live Workshops for updates on our 2024 schedule!

Referenced Material:

4 Communication Styles Podcast


Brett Bartholomew  0:00  

Hey, quick personal note here. So I’d appreciate it if you tune into this. And maybe I shouldn’t share this. But I’d really like to. Despite running a company that is largely focused on communication, and understanding, power dynamics and human interaction, I fall short a lot. My wife and I have been together for 13 plus years, we get in arguments, we fight, I lose my cool sometimes in many areas of my life. And for a long time, I felt like that made me a failure. And then what I realized is, it’s exactly what we talked about at art of coaching and why our products exist. None of us are ever going to be good enough at communication. My doctorate doesn’t mean that I’m going to be a perfect communicator, the fact that I write books on this doesn’t mean that I’m going to be a perfect communicator. 


And if you already feel like you’re good enough in your professional life, well, then I just ask you to consider if you’re where you want to be in your personal life, do you interact with your spouse, or your partner, your significant other, the way that you want to do you always show up for your kids the way that you want to? I think if you’re being honest, we all fall short. And that’s where our work can help. We don’t do a bunch of pie in the sky solutions. We’re real people who have a real flaws just like you. But we take a research backed approach and an experience led approach to help you improve in those areas that matter most. So if you want to improve as a communicator, whether it’s for your job, whether it’s for your loved ones, or whether it’s for yourself, personally, check out what we do at


We have virtual mentoring that you don’t have to leave your house for. We have live workshops where you can connect with other humans, anything that sits at the intersection of relationships, leadership, or entrepreneurship, we have solutions for, so join us. We’re a bit of a group of misfits, we’re imperfect. But I can promise you this, there’s no way you’re going to get involved with any of our programs, and not come away with actionable insights that transfer to every part of your life. So reach out to us once again, or you can email us direct at We would love to help 


Welcome to the Art of coaching Podcast. I’m Brett Bartholomew, and at a young age poor communication nearly cost me my life. Now, I help others navigate the gray area of social interaction, power dynamics and communication so they can become more adaptable leaders regardless of their profession, age or situation. This podcast is for everybody who is fascinated with solving people problems. So if you’re in the no nonsense type who appreciates frank conversations, advice you can put to use immediately, and learning how others navigate the messy realities of leadership. You’re in the right place. I’m glad that you’re joining us. Let’s dive in.


Hey, Brett here, and a quick disclaimer, before we dive into today’s episode, I want to acknowledge a very important and sensitive topic. While we are going to be discussing strategies for improving communication with colleagues, co workers, your spouse or even children that may shut down or withdrawn conversation, it is crucial to recognize that our discussion does not extend at least this one, to handling situations of emotional abuse or relationships where abuse is present. So if you or somebody you know is struggling with emotional abuse, or you’re in an abusive relationship, it is important to seek professional help. There are resources available that can offer that support and guidance organizations such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline in the United States, which can be reached at  1800 799 safe that’s 7233. But double check it as well, or online at and they provide confidential assistance. 


For listeners in other countries, please seek out local services that can offer support. So again, to be clear, the strategies we’re talking about today are meant for general communication challenges related to people shutting down or stonewalling, they are not going to be appropriate for all situations, let alone those involving abuse. So ensuring your safety and well being is paramount. We absolutely know the limits of our scope here at art of coaching, and we just want to make sure that we grounded in that. Okay. All right. And those by the way, that phone number and those resources will be in the show notes. 


All right. So now grounding the episode. Let’s introduce stonewalling. Let’s talk about different aspects of shutting down and work with me here because there’s a lot to cover. So we always try to do some taster episodes, where, you know, I’m not gonna sit here and give you four hours of content. I’m going to give you an overarching view. I’m going to give you some really practical strategies, some things that I believe can help you diagnostically so you can see this situation  differently. and hopefully some things that help you. And we’re gonna deal with two primary situations after we do this overview and really grounding it. One, and both are from members of our audience. One is from a parent who really wants to reconnect with their child, right? In this case, it’s their daughter, and their daughter just shuts down. And it’s very hard trying to figure out how to reestablish that relationship. 


The other we’re going to deal with it from a difficult colleagues standpoint, we have a client that’s a part of our mentoring program that has a client. And again, I always change the names and change details to protect all your privacy. But the client puts them in some really tough situations. I tell you this because whether you’re dealing with this with a spouse, whether you have somebody at work that shuts down is avoidant is passive aggressive, or it’s your child, these things can help you because there are overarching principles. And a reminder, if you want to dive more deeply, we talked about all these things in more and a lot of our workshops, we roleplay them out, it can be tremendously valuable because you’re going to deal with other people that have dealt with it. You’re sharing strategies, and we do online virtual mentoring. So no matter where you are in the world, our team of professionals helps you and these are all private conversations. So make sure go to, if you’re interested in that, or our workshops,


Alright, so, Introduction to stonewalling and giving credit where credit is due, this term was really popularized by an individual named Dr. John Gottman, and I’ll get to more of that in a minute. But stonewalling essentially, occurs when somebody withdraws from a conversation or an interaction. And we’ll mention what that looks like in a minute. They shut down dialogue, and essentially really just build a wall between themselves and others. Now, in researching this episode for this episode, and other things, people have a lot of terms. There’s all that’s gray walling that’s not stonewalling. We’re gonna keep things really, really simple here, because in any topic you can get as into the weeds as you want. But let’s focus on the need for the now. So according to Gottman research, and he has a tremendous amount of research. stonewalling is one of the four key behaviors, along with criticism, contempt, and defensiveness that predicted the end of a relationship. 


A lot of them will say, Oh, it’s the Four Horsemen of a marriage. But really, these can predict the end of any kind of relationship, it can be a friendship, as well. And today, we’re going to focus mainly on this stonewalling piece, because it’s gotten so much attention. And so imagine, just think about a time and maybe it was you too because this can, be a great chance for introspection in this episode. Think of a time when you or somebody you knew reacted to a situation by really just withdrawing and closing down, you blocked all this communication. And maybe for you, it was triggered by feeling emotionally overwhelmed, or you were criticized, you didn’t know how to process it. So boom, just shut down as a defense mechanism. 


Right? And think about that, because it can be really easy. And I know I’ve been guilty of it in the past and thinking anybody that does this is just not emotionally mature. And while that might be true, in some cases, that certainly not true in all cases. And all you have to do is think about times when you’ve done that. And while there’s certainly a maturity element to that, more than likely, it’s also more multifaceted. Right? So we’re going to explore that. Now if you want to recognize it and think Alright, well, what does this look like because it’s a new term, there’s already a lot of information coming at me. And we’re only five minutes into the episode, I’ll slow things down. In a colleague, it might look like just rapid disengagement in meetings, consistently avoiding discussions about work performance. I remember at one point in time, somebody that I had worked with once they were so disengaged that me and a couple other people were coming back from an event, we were debriefing, we were talking about it in the car, and this person was just zoned out. And it wasn’t like they were tired or trying to take a nap. You could just straight up tell, they didn’t want to engage. And that was really a hint to me that oh, this person’s heart based on other things I’d seen along with that really isn’t in this anymore, because we tried passing the conversation to them. And in just about every way possible. They made it clear they weren’t interested, which was a problem because that was a core part of their job. Right. 


And it is also very prevalent in work performance. When you give reviews. You can see people that engage in stonewalling. Maybe they even nod their head. Imagine you the listener right now is giving me some feedback. I could sit there and say, Uhuh, hmm, that’s interesting. Yeah. Oh, okay. I could say all of these things that almost seemed like verbal reinforcers of listening. But really, the subtext is screw you. I don’t agree. Oh, really. I don’t respect you. I’m not listening, whatever, like people pick their battles. And we know in the corporate space, people will mask their behavior all the time. They will and we even saw it in the last few years. I mean, there are people that just quiet quitting. That’s an example All of stonewalling in its own sense when you see people just disengage like, hey, are you quiet quitting on me like what’s going on here 


In a spouse or a partner. It could even just manifest his silent treatment during arguments, or refusing to discuss important relationship issues. And obviously, all of these are interchangeable. I’m just talking about some examples. With children, it could appear as them ignoring questions retreating to their room when asked about their days, or feelings, anything like that. So let’s also talk about some additional characteristics of stonewalling. So we mentioned emotional withdrawal. Imagine somebody just becoming straight up unresponsive. You know, it’s almost like they’re not even inside, they seem hollow, they seem like a machine. It just seems kind of cold and detached. And this could be physical non responsiveness, right? This could just be avoiding eye contact. 


I once coached youth athletes that just stared at the ground. Conversely, I’ve went in and worked with a tech company on an inservice. And there was somebody that would start to face away and angle their body away from anybody, especially when they were doing their role playing. And others will engage in distracting behaviors, they could just fidget with their phone, a TV, a pen, you can start to tell these things. Another example might be silence, or as opposed to just silence monosyllabic responses, minimal. Oh, and I gave examples of that earlier. Oh, yeah. Hm? Yes. And this is the stuff that it’s hard for me to talk about, because a weakness of mine is these kinds of behaviors. Right. And, it mainly stems from, and I don’t know how many of you can relate to this. But this stuff amongst, you know, it gets me going more so than anything else, because I know I put a lot of effort into trying to communicate better. I’m very flawed. I’m very aware of those flaws. But I know that I’m generally not going to make a mistake due to a lack of effort or caring. So when I see somebody else to do these things, it Madden’s me 


And I’m also guilty, just to put it out there and hopefully create a vulnerability loop. When you read stuff today about advice on how to deal with this, it drives me crazy as well. Because it’ll just be that typical, I’ll just listen actively, give them empathy, make sure you’re providing a safe space, and I’m thinking in my head, okay, there are certain times where people just need to have the conversation, people can’t run, they can’t dictate things on their time. But we are going to talk about that from both ends of the spectrum. Because of course, there are circumstances where that’s true. And then there are other circumstances where you do just have to learn, alright, I’m not going to win this battle. My greater desire is to win the war. And I mean, those in the positive context of things, right, just having a better overall outcome. So you do need to know when to just fight another day. 


Continuing on with different characteristics, a lot of times what you might perceive as somebody stonewalling, you can just be them being flooded with information, right? It just is, I mean, you got to remember, for that kind of individual. And I’ve gotten more sympathetic to this over the years as we’ve ran our workshops, that their heart rate could increase, they have this heightened state of arousal. But for myself, and maybe some of you where that makes us think more quickly and choose our words and whatever for them, that can just kind of shut down. Because the perceived threat is so great, that it starts to hinder their sense of self belief. It even can cloud some of their values. So they express themselves in ways that aren’t even consistent with who they are as a person. And I know if my wife was on here, she would tell you that she knows that sometimes even when she’s avoiding or withdraws. That makes it worse for her. Because she knows she shouldn’t do those things. So then it just leads to more shutdowns. And eventually, okay, that conversation is over. That conversation is over. 


And so think about this too, if you’re a parent, when we have kids, no matter how smart they are, and unique they are and how self aware they are. Many of them are just not equipped through a wide variety of life experiences, full development of the prefrontal cortex, the hormonal cascade they have to deal with. It’s hard for a normal person and there’s no normal you know what I mean, though, like just an adult that’s kind of been through the wringer to process some of this, let alone with kids. So I just want to say that for some of you that are parents and I am a parent, granted, it’s not a teenager right now, but if you know anything about my story, I dealt with a certain amount of anger, anxiety, depression as a teenager, there’s a big thing that got me into it. 


You have to appreciate that’s kind of the baseline for some of them. I mean, if you have a really responsive, self aware, communicative team, good on you, but that’s not the norm, especially in today’s society. So there there has to be a certain kind of awareness of that as well. Another question we got, as we ground things here at the beginning of the episode is, is it more common in men or women? And I went into the research on this a little bit, and it became very evident that you can find whatever you’re looking to find. But I think what’s most important is that we recognize men or women, we’ve all been guilty of this. I’m an incredibly expressive person. And I’ve been guilty of, this I have. And that’s the main thing, I don’t think we want to really draw more lines of differentiation. But that’s just a huge piece of that. 


Alright, so now that we’ve talked about what it can look like, let’s get to some more diagnostic elements. And key things to understand. We talked about emotional overwhelm, like where does this come from, and I think it is worth recognizing that stonewalling is not necessarily an unwillingness to communicate, right? It can just be how they respond to these things, right? There’s certain triggers or whatever, then constraints that lend itself to that response. So there are certain people that might, if you look at various contexts, because all communication happens within a given context, somebody might withdraw or Stonewall when it comes to certain topics, when it comes to certain environments. And they can be incredibly expressive and astute in other environments.


Hey, you might not know this, but we offer staff development as well. This is very easy, it is all virtual, and it is tailored to you. So if you’re somebody that values human to human interaction, building trust, and you want your staff to get better at the interpersonal side of things, leave the work to us, just reach out to us at There’s a contact us page, it’s very easy. We work with a wide variety of budgets, and we have worked with people and a wide variety of fields. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in sports performance, physical therapy, finance, anything. The fact is, most people don’t have time to be able to grow their staff in this way, they’ve got to upskill them on the technical side of things, they’ve got to make sure they’re up skilled and the standard operating procedures. Let us handle the interpersonal piece. Let us handle the part that helps your staff get better at building trust, building relationships, and helping make what you do get amplified, please reach out to us at, now. It’s a contact us page, we’d be happy to help. If that’s not easy enough, just email us at`.


Somebody might withdraw or Stonewall when it comes to certain topics when it comes to certain environments, and they can be incredibly expressive and astute in other environments. Right? So that’s really important, whether you’re dealing with a colleague, whether you’re dealing with your daughter, or son or spouse or whatever, right now, just think. Okay, where am I recognizing this? Does this happen in certain physical locations? The timing of it? Have I noticed this happening more often after they got on the phone off the phone with, their boyfriend or girlfriend or after school? Did it happen after a competitive event when they didn’t perform their best? 


For a colleague? Does it happen more when you approach them? Right? Because that lends insight into some strategies we’ll talk about later, you know, maybe you need somebody else to approach them. But already, I just want to get your wheels turning, even though we’re on the root causes side of this context is a core root cause, right just as much as somebody’s history of negative interactions, right? Because a lot of people can say, Oh, well, I was brought up in a family where this happened. And that happened. And that’s very valid. That’s very valid. But we also know we have to grow and evolve the best way we can no matter what we experienced in our past. So what’s more important now is that not so much that we dwell on the past, but that we label these contexts. I’ll give you a very clear example. And I’ve mentioned it on the show many times. 


If you were to say, well, Brett, where’s an example where you get really bad at this, when I come back from teaching our two day workshops, and it could be a three day workshop or whatever. But I remember one time when I really the light bulb hit me I just come back from a two day workshop. Prior to that I recorded an episode for the podcast. I had written our newsletter, I was running hot, there’s a lot going on. So it’s Monday, I had come home at a flight delay and my wife, but for no fault of her own, and come and just laid out this laundry list of things that I needed to address that week. Now, mind you, and I like to think I’m somebody that’s not this classic definition of soft. Now mind you, you know when I go and teach during the weekend, people hit me with a lot of deep stuff. A lot of deep stuff. I mean, people talk about a lot of really great but deep things and I internalize that because I want to help solve that problem. So when that happened, I’m just flooded. At the moment with like, I’m still trying to unwind, I’m still trying to get back into a routine of my week. And now I’ve just been hit with a bunch of to do’s, I would very much lose my cool. 


So whereas I might not shut down entirely, I do treat it as a threat response. And I lost and I’m just like, hey, have I not done enough lately, I need a few minutes to myself. And I don’t appreciate you bringing this. I mean, I knew the minute I said that, I’m like, Wow, dude, you teach communication. And that’s how you responded. But that’s why we call our workshop, the apprenticeship, like, you’re gonna be imperfect. What’s more important is that you recognize those contexts so that you can listen very carefully to what I’m telling you.


When you recognize different contexts, and you can label them, hey, after these kinds of events, or hey, after these kinds of circumstances, or hey, in this environment, whatever, when you can label that when you’re more likely to feel those emotions. And you’re like, you’re able to give your partner, your spouse, your colleagues kind of a cheat sheet to you. And the expectation shouldn’t be that they adapt to that and treat you like a special little snowflake all the time. The goal is that maybe you all learn a little bit more about each other. Right? And that can be as basic as saying, Hey, I understand we gotta do quarterly reviews, and they suck. We’re all going to hear some things that we don’t like about ourselves. 


But what can we control? Alright, we can do these here at the office, or we can go out to dinner and do these at you know, a place that everybody likes, but we’re gonna do them. Right. But I want to make sure that we navigate these things the best that we can. So all I’m asking you to do is think about the different contexts in which this happens. And when I talked to that, an example of a parent, at one of our workshops, they said he noticed, Tommy, when does he tend to shut down? Well, he doesn’t take criticism well, and it happens a lot of times after a swim meets. He just feels like he never lives up to his own expectations. So anytime we try to bring anything to him. That’s when it happens that he just kind of goes through his room and closes off for the night. 


Okay, well, you’re one step closer to understanding these things now. So other root causes. I mentioned some pieces there, right? People have a fear of misunderstanding or judgment. There’s a lot of people that don’t express themselves because it’s not easy for them to find the words. And they get worried that their thoughts or feelings will be misunderstood, or judged. And that leads to a lot of avoidance. So imagine you hit somebody with something really detailed. And maybe it was just a really good argument, maybe it was a really clear point. Or maybe it was a criticism that they felt like came out of nowhere. Well, now, they’ve got a process that internalize it, and then think, how should I respond to that? And will this make things worse? 


That’s a lot. I mean, the other week, again, I’m trained in this stuff. And the other week, I was trying to write an email for somebody that offered to introduce me to a contact, and I’m like, oh, man, there’s so many ways this could be misinterpreted. I need to make sure that I get to the core points, this person understands what’s in it for them. I speak to my background, just enough so that they know I’m not just some schlump, just sitting here doing nothing, but I don’t want to talk about it too much that it seems like I think I’m God’s gift because I know I’m not. So think that’s just writing a certain email for an introduction, think about when the stakes are high. Again, while I go in the ground, defending our use of roleplay in our framework, that no matter what you know about any of these things, if you don’t practice it, any roleplay is so critical. Some other things, just remember that people lack conflict resolution skills. So a lot of times people will Stonewall because they don’t really know how to engage in constructive dialogue, you might have to teach them that 


I had an employee before that, I had to say, Listen, I know it’s uncomfortable. But if I give you constructive criticism, I care enough. You don’t want my indifference. So all I ask is that when we come to these conversations, you know, if you feel like you’re getting emotional about it, or you feel defensive about it, just say that. Say, Hey, I’m processing this, and it’s taking me a minute to process this, or I’m perceiving that you’re saying this, can you clarify for me. It’s alright. Just say what you need to say, you know, even my toddler will do that, like Dad, I don’t understand, or Dad, this is hard for me. And no, I’m not comparing that person to a toddler. I’m making the point that sometimes we just need to go back to first principles. And it’s that most obvious thing that needs to be said 


Right. So a lot of times people don’t understand how to have that constructive dialogue. And I know for me, personally, I had been, before I met my wife now, I was in a relationship that was not awesome in grad school. And I was constantly being accused of this and that so even when I just got into a healthier relationship, it took me a while to get out of this reflectiveness of knowing how to respond to something, let alone an accusation or a criticism. So that’s a huge piece there too. Right? So just going down those risk factors. Again, it can be fear of escalation, it’s a learned behavior. Some of it may have seen it from their parents, past relationships, so they unconsciously adopt that behavior. If they grew up seeing their parents just kind of shove that down and go channel it into work or working out or something else. Even if it looks like this morally virtuous endeavor, those things don’t just dissipate, they go somewhere. 


And that was something that Liz and I had conversations about, because just like I tell you many of my issues and insecurities, she would tell you, like, yeah, I tend to just eat it. And then what I would tell her is, well, that comes out other places. You know, that’s very much like, no matter what you do, even in your body, let’s say you’re somebody that’s an excessive sweater, they have stuff that you can take for that hyperhidrosis. But then it’s going to have After Effects, right? It doesn’t just Okay, now you don’t sweat under your arms. Now your legs are going to sweat more whatever. So alright, now what do we do about this? Because there’s the typical stuff. Well use clear non accusatory language, frame your concerns is ‘I’ statements, I feel like it, you know, anything like that, or you can even say it seems like, that’s valid, right? 


You can address that emotional overwhelm directly by doing things like scheduling a specific time to talk to ensure both parties are mentally prepared. But obviously, you can appreciate how that’s not going to be a reality in many jobs, certainly not a reality in my job. I can’t just be like, hey, whoo I really want to shut down right? Now, could we come back to this? That’s just not something I can do. And I’m in front of rooms. So what I want to do, I’m going to talk about two case studies, lay it out, give some tips, lock in principles, clarifying questions, and then you should leave with some pretty damn good toolkit. 


Alright, so let’s start first for the parent, for the Mother, the Father, whatever. Alright, in this case, it was a mother that reached out to us. And they said, Well, what do I do? Now, imagine this, I don’t know their daughter. Just like, I don’t know your kids. And parenting is not one size fits all. But you know that you can at least start with like, well, what shouldn’t you do? If somebody withdraws and they don’t want to communicate, you should not create more high pressure scenarios, right? You should try to engage in activities that don’t require a lot of that intensive communication. 


And you’ve got to look at it this way. A lot of times, even if you’re like, Yeah, but I got to talk to him about this thing. You might have to find something that is so lateral and indirect, cooking together, doing some kind of craft together going on a walk, start with the most basic thing, just build it in and no matter what it seems like. Let’s say you’re okay, yeah, Brett, I took your advice. I went to a place I even met up with a mutual friend at the park a lot of space between us, you might start making progress. And you might feel the urge. You might be like, Oh, my God, they’re warming up to me. Alright, now’s the time. No, it’s not, you need to give them an opportunity to realize that you’re not just creating situations to get an in. So you’ve got to, sometimes take that indirect route, you got to be very patient, you’ve got to do those things. And for those of you that want play devil’s advocate, chill. I’m gonna have the direct strategies later, just hang tight, right. Right now we’re just talking about indirect methods are usually incredibly effective. When it comes to somebody that just blatantly shuts down. That direct conversation is just going to increase that threat response more. 


And, yeah, we’re gonna get to the rest of that in a minute. Another thing is changing the medium, right? Write a letter, send it in a text, share a song from your playlist, whatever, you know, an article.It can be whatever it is, just think of what’s less confrontational. And remember, this is for the parent. Don’t just try to be like, dammit, Billy, you’re going to talk about this, whether you like it or not, no. And remember, if you’re a kid listening to this, an adolescent 10 to 24 years old age, just realize that the other person doesn’t have this figured out all the way either. Like sometimes you just need to, like, why are you being a pain in the ass? If you want them to say something, go say, hey, I really wish you would just tell me this. Don’t play games. Because your parents are so close to the situation. They saw you during so many aspects of your life, right? It’s hard for them to zoom out. It’s hard for them to treat you like this, autonomous grown up human being whatever that you want to be. And it doesn’t matter what you think about that. The point is, this isn’t easy for anybody. So get out of your own head too. If you’re listening to this, at the end of the day, you’ve got to decide what is it worth to you? Sitting here and playing this guessing game and cat and mouse? This is what last week’s episode was about. 


Another piece might be just scheduled check in’s, have some flexibility. Say hey, I know right now is not a great time to talk. But, is there a time that would work For you, I’m willing to meet things on your terms, especially if you’re a parent, which is what we’re talking about here, this respect to their need for space while keeping the door open for communication. What you’re hearing me say is you need to give them a feeling of power. You do. power dynamics shape every relationship. So you’ve just got to understand as the parent, what’s more important, you getting to your point right now, are you getting to the core of the matter and building that relationship you want over the long term. So this could be like hey, I understand things have gotten off on the wrong foot, or you may not want to talk right now, I want to make it clear that I’m here. I care about you. I’m not always gonna say the right thing. But I swear to God, I’m on your side, I love you. Just let me know when you’re ready to talk. Right? Whatever your version of that is, because there’s a principle there. And part of that underpinning principle, and the one I just gave you is making sure that you’ve expressed your unconditional support. I love the devil’s advocate taking, I’d be like, Well, I’ve already done that. Dammit, Brett, I’ve already told them, I love them. They know I love them. Okay. People sometimes have to hear things a lot. Somebody just came to our workshop in San Francisco, and said, How many times did you have to hear about one of our workshops before he came? He’s like, it’s like two years? 


And I said, Alright, was there anything I could have done, to get you here more quickly? No, I was just in a lot of different life stages, trying to figure some stuff out, you know, and I don’t know that I would have been able to hear that message. And that’s valid. But I still have to share that message, don’t I? Because if I like what do you win by not, so just continually express how much you care for them, you’re there for them, you’re in their corner. And remember, I can speak about this. Because there have been plenty of times when I was in the throes of kind of depression or a difficult time in my life as a teenager, it very much felt like I didn’t know who I could trust. And I got very used to hearing people say, Yeah, I love you, I care about you, whatever. And it didn’t register. It didn’t register the same way. So another thing is just making sure that people know that it’s not contingent on them being communicative. And I think this is a bit different. If it’s your spouse, and this is just me, right? So I respect if you don’t agree, that’s fine. That’s not the point. We shouldn’t agree on everything. But as a spouse, right? Of course, my love for my wife isn’t contingent on her being communicative. But not being communicative isn’t a great way to continue in a romantic relationship, right? So while that person might love you, it’s like, well, if you do love me, you’re gonna find a way to make this work. Because I’m trying to find a way to doing it with you, but with your kids, and it’s just tough. That’s a tough thing to reconcile. And that relationship is so complex. 


Another piece I would ask you to do is just mirror these things. Like you need to say, how do I want to phrase this? Because we don’t script this stuff. Hey, it sounds like you’re feeling overwhelmed by blank. That must be really hard. And I’m not just saying that. And then don’t follow up with how can I help because that puts a lot of pressure on them. Which sucks, because in a way, it’s the right thing to ask. But you could even just say, it sounds like this is really difficult. I couldn’t imagine being in that situation. Would it help if I did blank, or all I’m also happy to do blank, or I’m also just happy to listen, you know? And asking that of saying, Do you want suggestions? Or do you want me to just kind of hold space and listen to you? That’s great, too. Because that might be the answer might be that simple. You might be trying to communicate more, you just need to listen. And I had a friend that just experienced a death in his family. And I said, Hey, I know there’s nothing I can really say during this time. But I do promise if you ever need somebody to vent to or just listen, I’m here. That’s not performative. So that’s a really important thing, too. I hope I made some of those things clear. Before we get to the colleague element, there are some other self reflective questions that I believe can help if you’re a parent in that situation. Just thinking like, hey, in what way might my communication style, maybe you’re a little bit more direct, maybe you’re indirect, maybe you’re too empathetic. Maybe you’re too analytical, whatever. In what ways might this be contributing to them shutting down? Are there patterns from my own upbringing that I’m unknowingly repeating? Or how do I react when they shut down? Do I visibly become anxious, frustrated, insistent? Like you do have to understand that we all do things to escalate the situation. So just look at it that way. 


And then also ask yourself, am I buying into that myth of treat other people the way you want to be treated? I’ve talked about that a lot on this podcast. People do not want to be treated the way you want to be treated. They don’t. You know. I know that’s the golden rule. It’s not true. Everybody’s got different communication preferences, everybody’s got those things, you’re not going to be able to cater to them all the time, I’m not saying you should shift all the time, I am saying you should be aware of them. And it’s pretty hard to argue that if you just want to go through life being tone deaf, and appreciating the fact that not everybody wants to be communicated with the same way, you’re in kind of for a tough deal. Alright. So we’ll circle back, we’ll give some more tips for dealing with that kind of situation at the end. But I do want to move on to the colleague example, sort of ground this individual mentoring client reached out, Hey, I got a colleague that essentially, and I’m oversimplifying this for time, right, but you’re gonna get the bullet points. Colleague that does their own thing, even when the rest of the staff has decided on a clear course of action doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, you know, somebody like this. If this individual committed to doing certain things, didn’t follow through on them, and then claims to have not heard them or remembered what was said. I’ve dealt with this in romantic relationships. So last time, appreciate that this is universal. I said, Alright, what else? Well, they get really defensive. And then they put everybody else in a reactive situation. So when we confront him, and that’s a relative term, they weren’t like, hey, you know what, but when we confront them and just say, you know, this put the team in a tough situation. Can you help us understand why you did this? Because we thought you were going to do blank, just gets defensive. 


And I said, alright, well, what have you tried? Well, we’ve tried seeking to understand, we’ve tried to kind of just asking, Why do you persist in doing these things? Great, what does he say? He won’t give answers. He just kind of shuts down. Won’t give answers leaves the room. We can’t force him to stay. Or it just gives answers that are so superficial, we know he just BS-ing us. And I said, alright, well, can you fire him? Because you have to address that. I mean, like, there’s a lot of people that listen to the shows, and they’re like, Oh, well, I’d just fire him. Not always as easy. There’s people that have union jobs. I mean, There’s so many facets to it, especially in today’s day and age. And also that can just be lazy sometimes, depending on how deep these offenses are, and ethics and whatever, but the answer for everything can just be, well just fire him. So I said, All right, anything else? Doesn’t take well, to performance reviews acts as if they’re being attacked. Other times, will repeatedly say they’re going to do something almost does a 180 in terms of displaying enthusiasm, where they usually don’t. And they’ll be like, Yeah, I’m all in. But then we almost can see the wheels turning in his head where he’s not going to actively implement them. And, certain conversations, when we ask him for clarifying, okay, tell me how you’re gonna approach this?


He’ll start dovetailing and changing the topic. And then we kind of come back full circle. And we’re like, Huh, what just happened there? So, some things I said here. And remember, I tend to be very direct. So I really try to be diplomatic when I’m giving advice. And I tried to think of the weaknesses, in my own advice, and pre mortem, said, alright, well, have you tried to coalition tactic? Have you tried, getting the group together or even reaching out to other people that he respects he’s really close with, and not necessarily having an intervention, but just everybody approaching and saying, hey, I’ll make up the name here. Hey, Don, we respect you. But we’re really struggling with blank and you want to be specific about certain behaviors? And we’re looking for a solution. Could you help us with this? Now, those of you that have been to our apprenticeship know that’s a coalition tactic stacked with a consultation tactic. And the goal is to show that it’s not just you, like you’re not some person with a vendetta. It’s kind of impacting the collective. And while yes, you’re being assertive, you’re also doing this by giving him a little bit of power of saying, we’re just looking for a solution, can you help us find a way out of this? Now, once again, devil’s advocate, you might say, well, that wouldn’t work with me? Well, yeah, we get that we get that some people are going to feel more threatened or more attacked. But we want to address these things holistically. Another thing you could do is ask them to summarize and engage in some level of social contract. So when they say, this person forgets a lot, or they say, I don’t think you remember that correctly. Maybe just try saying, Hey, I know we discussed a lot. So that’s on me. And also, I just like to double back and make sure that nothing was unclear. And if it was, let me know that otherwise, if you could just reaffirm the steps or actions you’re gonna take, I’d appreciate it. 


You can shorten that down, you can say, I know we discussed a lot. So I just want to double back and make sure nothing was unclear. What you take away from this, and what are the next couple steps you’re going to take? I would do this on staff meetings. We’d have a big staff meeting once a week, several other meetings as well. But there were certain things that I couldn’t be concise on. It just had to get discussed. I’d say alright, what did you all hear me say? And what’s the one action item you’re going to take within the next 24 hours? That allows me to see where was I unclear? What are they going to do? So now I can have that accountability. And in that context, you know, we recorded our staff meeting so somebody said why don’t we member you saying that you can point back to that. And that’s a huge piece too. You want to document this stuff. And you have to document those things because that’s a really critical element, especially if you have somebody that’s been doing that again, and again and again, which sidebar, something else you very much want to consider before you just say this person’s stonewalls and shuts down. That’s a huge piece, you do need to ask, is this a trend with this person? Or is this been an occurrence? Goes right back up to where I talked about context. When you’re saying this person seems to Stonewall, they shut down, they get passive aggressive, I’m going to say, all the time? Or can you really isolate certain broader context where that happens? Where the timing was like this, did this happen on vacation? Did this happen at the office? Did this happen right after a breakup? And also, is it consistent? Or is it pretty isolated? That’s the thing, right? 


Another thing that you can utilize, because I know many of you like to kind of get sound bites. You can say, Hey, Don, sometimes I feel like our wires get crossed. I want to do all I can to help. So can you confirm that you’re going to be able to take on blank and blank, whether that’s take on this project, take this group, anything like that? Or it seems like there’s times where you stated that I remember something incorrectly, or I forget. So what’s the best way to document this or solidify it? And by and large, most people are okay with that. I asked my doctor today I said, Hey, do you mind if I record this? There’s a lot of information. And I just like to save it for my own review. Not at all, great, did that. But for many of you, you have a way to do this, you can record your staff meetings, you can. Have your like, Well, no, we can’t because of HIPAA, okay? Well, you can still document things internally, the discussions that you have. So I want to make sure I’m clear with that I’ll double back to. And also just setting clear expectations, it is very much okay for many of you, and you need to do a better job of it as in Hey, guys, in this environment, we communicate openly. And we understand that sometimes you’re gonna have to cross more wires to create more sparks. So the expectation here is if you don’t like something, or you don’t agree with something, speak up, you know. And then you also, by the way have to own that and say, Alright, I want to make sure that if somebody speaks up, they’re not directly challenging my authority. We live in this day and age where everybody wants to be like, Oh, we’re so disruptive, we’re so avant garde, but really, they just end up doing the same stuff, because they’re not, because they get kind of sensitive about things. So if that’s what you’re going to do, hold yourself to that expectation, as well, you do need to be consistent in that so that you’re not a hypocrite. 


I hope that’s clear. And within that you can just establish boundaries. I do this when I’m teaching my workshop, hey, we can talk about anything here, but there are some things that are acceptable, not acceptable let’s discuss that. You might also have to figure out are you doing a good enough job laying out objective outcomes? If you feel like somebody is shutting down? Well ask yourself, are you centering the discussions around tangible results? And objectives? Are you being very specific? Are you being solution oriented? Are you doing this stuff? So there’s a lot of angles that you can take there. Now let’s imagine this person is just the worst of the worst, straight up acting like a child, they shut down all the time, all these pieces, and you’re like, Hey, I’ve tried the diplomatic stuff. And let’s imagine, two, because this is something that our client talked about, they said, I’ve done a lot of these things. And the main issue, Brett, is he really always wants to dictate when we’re going to have these discussions. And so what I said to him is, well, that’s not always going to be the reality. We need to have this discussion now. And he said, why I’m not ready to have it now. And Okay, what do you say, then? Well, eventually, I just felt like that he was gonna go report me, because he said that he felt threatened. So I back down. That’s a tricky one. That’s when you’ve really got to bring in that kind of mediator. If somebody threatens you, if somebody says stuff like that, there’s times you just might have to say, All right, you know, you back away from that, you go find somebody, and I don’t know if it’s their boss, HR, whatever. Sometimes those things can make it worse. But you’ve got to find some way to mediate it. 


You also got to look at your relationship with that individual. You do. Because if somebody says, I’ve been in that situation, I’m not ready for this conversation right now. I apologize. But we need to have it right now. And here’s why. Here’s why we need to have it and the why might be very evident some of you because putting that stuff off, can make it worse. It can make it worse. So you do need to know when to escalate. I know we live in this society. I want to be real clear. And I’m going to mark this for, I know we live in this society that wants everybody to feel psychologically safe and everybody to just be vulnerable and warm and empathetic, and those things are valid in certain contexts. But there is also a time to just escalate things and say, Hey, this conversation needs to happen now. It’s gonna happen in this way. And we need to work through it, like two adults. Right? So for the greater good here, I hope that we can really do this. Because when we avoid difficult conversations, when we avoid conflict, it creates so many more issues down the road. So yes, be understanding, you can’t just look for ways, especially if you’re a direct communicator, to substantiate that kind of behavior all the time, you’re gonna have to be able to flex. But there are some times where it’s just like, Yeah, this is what it has to happen. And this is where I loved that our clients said this, they were just like, Yeah, I told them that sometimes you’re just going to feel uncomfortable, and the conversation needs to happen right now. It does. So I hope that’s clear. Because you can’t really make the internet happy today. You say leverage mediation, somebody says, No, you need to be direct. You say be direct, and then you say, well, you must hate Brene Browns research, because she talks about vulnerability, no. That’s the point of communication. It’s nuanced. It’s very, very, very nuanced. 


Now, I got my permission from Liz to tell you this. There are times I was talking about this one, because she was like, I’ll shut down. And if you could just text me sometimes I said, No, I’m happy to do that sometimes. But listen, I’m your husband, we should be able to have these conversations. So what we had to do is, I mean, there’s some times where I’m sorry, I’m not going to bed without this being resolved. So you can take 10 minutes, you can watch your show in another room, do whatever you need to do, but then we need to come out here and have this conversation. Right. And so that can be a middle ground. And that was something that she agreed with. And just remember, if you’re somebody that does this, you do need to come to the table and be real about some of this stuff. Like you do need to tell your partner what causes these things you do collectively need to work through these things. 


Alright, as we wrap up, let’s go through a little agreed disagree. For some common thing advice you’ll see out there. One piece of advice when I was researching this episode is initiate a pre conversation agreement. So agree in advance on a mutual signal or phrase that each partner can use to initiate a conversation, so on and so forth. I think that’s crap. A pre conversation agreement? So if something hits the fan right now, and we need to have this enter, I’m supposed to initiate a pre conversation agreement? Come on. Now, on the other hand, because I challenged myself to say good and bad, that could be exactly what I just told you. Right? You could say, well, Brett, you’re being hypocritical you just kind of said you did that with your wife. Right? So maybe when things get heated, it can just be like maybe the safe word’s kumquat. Okay, if you’ve seen Pirates of the Caribbean, right, parley Oh shit, evoke parley. Now, she’s got to meet with the captain, we can’t armor. Right? I guess that can be fine. And it’s important to just acknowledge that certain things work for certain people. So if you’ve tried everything, and a pre conversation agreement isn’t one of them, give it a go. Give it a go. Set a specific time for difficult conversations big fan of that. I even do this, you get a bonus here, Liz and I even do this with things that we’ve got to handle in our personal lives. So for example, today, at the time that I’m recording this, we had to deal with something with our car, we had to deal with something with our water heater, it’s just kind of one of those things where you got a lot of crap conversations you got to have, and I don’t like just peppering those things throughout my week, I’d rather just say, Alright, I got three hour block in the afternoon. We’re gonna dial and deal with all these things. So we pick a specific day and time and we handle all those pieces. So that might be really helpful. 


Could be really helpful. Maybe I’ve got conversations over coffee are difficult conversations over pizza, be creative, whatever. And then I think one that is very, very purposeful is having some kind of structure technique. Imagine I have a fake employee here named Timmy. And I say alright, Timmy, you know we’re gonna have some difficult conversations, I know and appreciate that you’ve kind of expressed that you’re somebody that shuts down, you struggle with these things. So I just want to remind you, here’s how these things are gonna go. I’m going to have an uninterrupted time or turn to speak, then you’re going to. This can make things a little less emotionally charged. I know there’s gonna be things that you’re going to want to interject with. When I’m speaking, I just ask that you take a note, and vice versa. Let’s do it that way. You know what you’re doing there? The underlying technique is you’re giving them some element of predictability. I can’t say it enough on this episode, if somebody has a tendency to Stonewall or withdraw, what they’re really wanting is some form of control. They’re wanting some form of control. And you have to remember people that have trouble supposing fears, insecurities or true feelings for whatever reason, they like that form of controller security. And this isn’t me casting aspersions, I’m not going to use any more disclaimers on that. We all have it. Agree on a pause protocol, take a break, if emotions escalate, you can just say something as simple as well, it’s clear this isn’t gonna get resolved right now, I would appreciate it if you’d come to me at a time where you can have this conversation, but just a heads up, it does need to happen before Wednesday. So if you don’t come to me before Wednesday, respectfully, I’m going to come find you. And I hope that we can work this out. Say that however you want. But that is more real world of saying, Alright, we gotta have it. It’s gonna happen before this time. 


Other pieces there seek professional support. Hopefully, that’s obvious. Focus on actionable solutions don’t just go around and around and around and around. So there’s a lot of pieces here. So what are the take homes? One, misunderstandings is the baseline. And we say this to everybody at our workshops. If you just appreciate the misunderstanding is the baseline a lot is going to, that’s going to help you a lot. Understand that some of this ties in with attachment styles. There are certain people that are a bit more avoidant, there are certain people that are a bit more anxious, right, those impact things. And if you don’t know what attachment styles are, I’m happy to do another episode on that in the future. But that’s something that’s valid. And by the way, and I’m going to pull up a note here, because this was something that I wanted to talk to you about, because I think I said this once and somebody really, they’re like, oh, this resonated with me, you should put it on the podcast. If you are familiar with attachment styles, I had once said people that have an anxious attachment style, often need or really like, and appreciate having vulnerability in order to feel safe. So it’s nice for them to be around somebody that also isn’t worried about being vulnerable, because it makes them feel safe. If they’re an anxious attachment style, or somebody that’s avoidant, which is very much the case of somebody stonewalls a lot. They’re avoidant, they need to feel safe before they can be vulnerable. So that’s a huge piece there, too. So where I’ve talked about different communication styles in the past, different drives different contexts. Maybe you speak the language of attachment styles, whatever works. But what you need to appreciate is everybody processes things differently. And many who engage in behaviors that aren’t really conducive to progress. They know it, they beat themselves up more. And that creates more of an issue. Right? 


And so think about that as well. What other pieces do we want to talk about here? Think about where you do these things. You do. There are certain subjects, topics, scenarios, where you’re going to shut down. If you swear, that’s not you, then there are certain topics, situations, contexts where you run really hot, you have to understand that when you do that, they have that same equivalence, just like their snapping turtles that are going to, you know, bite at you and snap at you if they’re aggravated. And there are other turtles that are just going to go right in their shell, different learned responses, different types of feedback loops. But that kind of self reflection is really, really, really critical. Root causes history of negative interactions, fear of conflict, avoidance of vulnerability, fear of escalation, fear of judgment, unmet emotional needs, sometimes they need to be validated, understood or respected. And yes, this holds true for your 58 year old colleague, Gary, as much as it holds true for your 13 year old daughter, Gloria. It’s a lot here. So I’m anxious to see you guys got some homework, reach out to us, tell us what you did, tell us what your ‘aha’ moments were. It’s not acceptable to leave this episode and think, Well, you didn’t cover this, you didn’t cover that. Take some accountability. What did you learn? Wherever you maybe approach some things incorrectly? Where can you get better? What are your tendencies? What types of context do you recognize these behaviors occurring in? How have you adapted them? Do you always try to come at them in a direct way? Too indirect? Do you come at them with too much logic? Do you need to have more of an emotional appeal? If the answer is just like, I don’t want to do any of this, that’s where we got to talk. 


I’d love to know if this helps you. It’s a big topic. It’s a big, big, big, big topic. So if we’re going to put more and more time into these things, it’s helpful to get some feedback. So please just take a moment. I don’t care if it’s shorthand, or if it’s dictated reach out to us at That’s say Love Episode 300 and blank, really helped or learned this about myself help, anything like that. We’d love to hear from you. All right, we’ll talk to you soon.

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