The Silent Treatment: Key Relationship Insights to Remember #PeopleSkills

When we think of someone we know that is giving us the silent treatment, we often think that something is wrong. In other words, we have a negative impression of what may be happening. Yet recently I saw quotes labeling the silent treatment as toxic and emotionally abusive. I challenge this extreme as not universally true.

The Silent Treatment: Image is an empty chair and empty park bench facing each other.

The Silent Treatment: Key Relationships People Skills Insights. Image by Marc Delforge via Flickr Creative Commons License.

Image by Marc Delforge via Flickr Creative Commons License.

The Silent Treatment: Key People Skills Insights

Especially in work settings there are many factors that may drive people to give someone the silent treatment. First of all, in many corporate business environments, frank conversations about anger are not acceptable. So, when people are angry they go silent. Secondly, if one or the other involved in a possible angry moment goes to management, management sometimes tells them to work it out themselves or mislabels it as just a personality conflict. They then feel that management is minimizing their pain or punishing them for speaking up.

5 Reasons You May Be Getting the Silent Treatment

If you are getting the silent treatment (especially at work), ask yourself if any of the following reasons may apply to you.

    They Don’t Want to Hear Excuses From You

  1. You have offended someone and you have a record of giving excuses like “I didn’t mean anything by it” or “I didn’t mean to hurt you.” Ask yourself why should they give you a chance to avoid responsibility. So instead they give you the silent treatment. It is protection for them.

  2. They Don’t Know How to Accuse You of Credit Stealing

  3. You have run over them or their accomplishments in front of others. Many people in a work environment don’t know how to speak up and stop you as you are doing it. Later, they give you the silent treatment because they still don’t know how to tell you that you stole credit for their work. If you are the leader or manager, this is especially true.

  4. You Cut Very Deeply

  5. You have said something racist, sexist, ageist, or something about their weight, appearance, or disability. These moments cut deeply and can take along time to heal. If you are getting the silent treatment, it can be that they think you are hopelessly uneducable. They also don’t want to hear another slur or your excuses about not intending to hurt them.

  6. They Are Frightened or Full of Disgust

  7. What you said or did was sexual harassment. The silent treatment they give you doesn’t mean they want you to suffer in return. It means either, a) they are thinking about what to do about your harassment, or b) they want nothing more to do with you.

  8. Basically, They Don’t Trust You

  9. As you read all the above items on this list, one common thread is that they don’t trust you. If you want the silent treatment to end, be very careful of what you say when you approach them. Don’t start with, “I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong …” It forecasts that you are going to sidestep and that is one of the things they already fear.

To End the Silent Treatment, Take Ownership!

Instead of stalking them repeatedly about “what’s wrong”, tell them that you take ownership of whatever has distanced the two of you. Let them know you welcome more specifics so you can change your behavior and prevent doing it again. Then give them time and space. When they do approach, make good on your promise. Don’t mention your intentions. Don’t ask them why they didn’t speak up sooner. Just give a simple heartfelt unconditional apology and thank them for telling you.

What would you add to the above list? Please share your perspective.

From my professional experience to your success,
Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™

Related Posts:
10 Behaviors That Make People Want to Work & Interact w/ You
15 Ways You May Be Silencing Employees
Replace These Unempathetic Leadership & Teamwork Replies

©2023 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. I appreciate your sharing the link to this post on your social streams. However, if you want to re-post or republish the content of this post, please email for permission and guidelines. Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™, delivers coaching, consulting, training, and keynotes on leading change, employee engagement, teamwork, and delivering the ultimate customer service. She turns interaction obstacles into interpersonal success. See this site for workshop outlines, keynote footage, and customer results.

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