How to talk to someone who is irrational. Timing is everything.

I don’t recommend trying to reason with anyone who is angry or irrational.

Here’s why. When a person is angry, stress hormones are automatically released into the bloodstream. These hormones tell the body to do one of three things:

  1. Fight
  2. Flee
  3. Freeze

Notice that “Talk “isn’t on the list. That’s because anytime we feel personally attacked or threatened, our reptilian brain—the ancient, purely reflexive, non-rational part of the brain—reacts, and our entire body shifts into survival mode. We don’t think straight from this place, because in survival mode, the rational part of our brain shuts down so the reptilian brain can get us to safety.

It is always better to postpone difficult discussions until both parties are in a more balanced, and more resourceful place. Nobody thinks straight in a hailstorm. Better to wait until the storm has passed.

Tricky Tuesday: How to communicate with someone who won’t talk to you

Weekly lesson in how to deliver hard messages

Today’s Tricky Tuesday is about breaking through the silence when someone you care about is unwilling or unable to talk to you.

First off, you must understand the distinction between those two states—unwilling or unable. While the two may exist at the same time, they don’t necessarily.

You must understand the distinction between unwilling and unable. While the two may exist at the same time, they don’t necessarily.

Unwilling can mean many things:

  • I’m hiding something.
  • I’m afraid of your reaction.
  • I’m ashamed of something I did.
  • I’m stalling for time to come up with an alibi or excuse.
  • I’m showing you how it feels to be shut out.
  • I’m trying to guilt you into doing something you forgot to do, or don’t want to do.
  • I want you to suffer.
  • I’m trying to make you think I know more than I do about something you did (so you’ll confess).
  • I’m actually protecting you by not saying what I’d like to say right now.
  • I need to focus on another task or issue that can’t wait.
  • I refuse to talk about this with others present.
  • I don’t feel safe or equipped to talk about this topic, except in therapy.

Unable can mean something very different:

  • I’m over-stimulated right now and my brain isn’t working well enough to talk.
  • I’m not sure what I’m feeling because my body is flooded with multiple feelings at once.
  • I can’t find the right words.
  • I need more time to process what I’m feeling.
  • I can’t be pressured into talking.
  • I’m too tired.
  • I need to better-rested before we have this conversation.
  • You always interrupt me or tell me what I should be thinking or doing, so I can’t get my thoughts out.

 The situation

Ben and Joel have adopted a child. Initially, they were thrilled, but for the past few days, something hasn’t felt right.  Ben came home from work Friday, agitated. He barely acknowledged Joel or the baby the entire weekend.

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Before the baby came, the couple had agreed: Ben would keep working as a teacher, and Joel would take unpaid leave from work to stay home with their new baby. Then, once school was out, Ben would take over for the summer and Joel would go back to work.

The silence was deafening.  Joel knew something was wrong, but Ben refused to talk and insisted everything was fine. The truth was, Ben had lost his temper with a student who made an offensive joke about gays.  Witnesses saw Ben chase the boy down the hall and shove him against a locker.  Ben was fired.

There is nothing unusual about this kind of problem. When shame takes over, it becomes painful–if not impossible—to speak about it.


The Talk to Me, Already!  card was designed to give the person who’s feeling shut out a way to connect with the person unwilling or unable to speak. It allows the Sender to express their hurt, anger, suspicions, or fears from a distance when the person in the room is unresponsive. Below is an example of screenshots I took of an Express Yourself ECard Joel might have written to Ben. The remaining checklists (not visible on the first screenshot) give Joel a chance to express both his hurt and his love for Ben, as well as his desire to know the truth so he can be part of whatever solution they need to come up with as a couple. The beauty of the cards is that they can be sent from a distance to anyone’s phone (even if they have an android) or tablet, since the link appears in an email.

TT Cropped tightly Oct 11 Talk to me double


Express Yourself Ecards AppExpress Yourself Ecards is a deceptively simple communication app that makes hard things easier to say. Each of the 10 cards helps you find the right words to express what you’re feeling.

Not only do the cards decrease defensiveness in the Reciever. You’ll automatically feel better just by filling one out.So, grab your iPhone or iPad. Try out the app for free. Find out why your brain will love you for it!
Express Yourself Ecards will change the way you talk to each other.  The respect is built into the app!

A note from Betsy Sansby

For years I’ve wanted to share this tool with a wider audience. In its original form, it was a paper and pencil homework tool  I called “The OuchKit.” I designed it for couples in my therapy practice who kept asking me to come home with them so they could have the kind of conversations on their own that they were having when I was there.

And now, with the advent and convenience of the iPhone and iPad, anyone interested in deepening their relationships can use Express Yourself ECards to understand themselves better, and express their feelings more effectively to get a more positive response.  And the best part, is that you don’t need a therapist in the room to help you do it.  For 99 cents, you can do it all by yourself. And it can change your life.

Please let me know how you like using it, and feel free to send me your Express Yourself ECards stories, good or bad.

Express Yourself Ecards app