You’ve heard it said many times that communication is crucial for good relationships. Few people would disagree that open, honest communication is important—but that doesn’t mean everyone is willing or able to talk effectively.
So what happens when your friend or love isn’t open and you’re having trouble coaxing the words out? Try these strategies:
1. If this person is a clam, don’t be a crowbar. In other words, prying someone open usually doesn’t work. It will get you nowhere to demand, plead, or threaten. A gentler approach will get you much further.
2. Realize that for many people, being open is scary. Closed-off people are convinced that being vulnerable invites judgment or rejection.
3. Create a safe environment. Getting someone to open up has everything to do with that person feeling safe and secure.
4. Understand that some closed-off people have hidden wounds. A difficult upbringing or past romantic disasters may have contributed to the fear of being open.
5. Recognize that everyone is wired differently. Each person falls somewhere on the continuum of extrovert and introvert, guarded and transparent. This doesn’t mean that someone naturally closed off can’t learn to open up—but it helps for you to understand that person’s basic temperament.
6. Be an ally, not an adversary. It can be frustrating when someone you love refuses to open up to you. Don’t let frustration become another barrier.
7. Express what openness means to you. Say something like, “Our relationship is so important to me. I want to us to have the closest relationship possible.”
8. Take time for togetherness. Many people need time—lots of it—to feel the freedom to open up.
9. Know that nagging will get you nowhere. When we see someone we love struggling to open up, we want to help—and that desire to help can sometimes cause us to nag and nudge. Doing so will only leave you both frustrated.
10. Set the tone. Make sure the context and conditions are right for open communication.
11. Emphasize empathy. Convey to this person that you “get” what he’s saying and you identify with his feelings.
12. Be a “role model.” Verbalize your own thoughts and feelings, and then allow plenty of space for them to do the same.
13. Accentuate affirmation. Any time he or she makes the effort to be transparent with you, make sure you convey how much you appreciate it.
14. Meet halfway. It’s not realistic or fair to expect anyone to immediately move from closed to totally open. Be satisfied with small steps forward.
15. Employ all of your listening skills. No one is going to be open with you unless he knows he has your full and undivided attention.