“If you’re playing a poker game and you look around the table and and can’t tell who the sucker is, it’s you.” — Paul Newman
A Nothing Person doesn’t contribute to the conversation.
No verbal feedback.
No nonverbal feedback.
What else could you expect from … the Nothing Person.
The Nothing Person can be especially dangerous if they appear as a Yes Person, but they actually are a “Say Yes, Do No” person.
In Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst, Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner write about how to deal with people that behave like a Nothing Person.
Your Goal in Dealing with a Nothing Person
Your goal in dealing with a Nothing Person is to persuade the Nothing Person to talk.
Action Plan for Dealing with a Nothing Person
Brinkman and Kirschner provide prescriptive guidance for dealing with Nothing people:
- Plan enough time. f you are tense and intense because of limited time, it’s the wrong time. Plan ahead. Dealing successfully with the Nothing Person may take a long time.
- Ask open-ended questions expectantly. The best kind of question to ask a Nothing Person is one that can’t be answered with a yes, a no, or a grunt. Use questions that begin with the words Who, What, When, Where, and How, since they tend to open up topics for discussion.
- Lighten it up. When nothing else is working, a little humor carefully used can go a long way. Be careful with this, because humor is a two-edged sword. It can inadvertently cut the Nothing Person and yourself, and there’s nothing funny about that.
- Guess. If your Nothing Person has remained silent until now, and nothing else has gotten results, or you want an alternative, try this: Put yourself in the Nothing Person’s shoes, and think back on the course of events as you understand them. What was the sequence and how else might you interpret the sequence to make positive sense out of this negative silence? Once you’ve come up with an idea, suggest it to the Nothing Person and watch for a reaction.
- Show the future. sometimes, the only way to get a Nothing Person is talking is to take him out of the moment and into the future. There the Nothing Person can see the consequences of continued silence, and perhaps find enough perspective and motivation to open up.
Examples of Responding to a Nothing Person
Brinkman and Kirschner provide examples of interacting with Nothing people:
- Ask open-ended questions expectantly. "If you did now, what would it be?"
- Guess. "Sam, I’m just guessing here, but three months ago during the reorganization, two of our departments were downsized significantly, and budgets were axed. What effect did that have on you?"
- Show the future. "without that information you’re withholding , more people will lose their jobs, and the people right here in this company who you’ve known for years are going to have their futures put at risk, all because you didn’t do the right thing. You may think you have a good reason for being silent now, but how will that reason of yours hold up later?"
Examples of Showing the Future
Brinkman and Kirschner provide examples to illustrate showing the future depending on your relationship with the Nothing person:
- For a get it right Nothing Person you might say: "Fine, don’t talk. [Blending with what is happening] Just imagine how many things could go wrong, and how much time we are going to waste on this project because we didn’t have your input."
- For a get along Nothing Person you might say: "Okay, you don’t have to talk. [blending] but in the long term I don’t see how our relationship can survive if we don’t start to communicate."
- For a get along Nothing Person at the office you might say: "Okay, you don’t have to talk [blending], but it sure won’t be any fun to work around here if we are all in our own little worlds. That will certainly kill the team spirit and make for a lot of bad feelings and misunderstandings."
- For a holistic Nothing Person who is trying to "get you" by closing you out, talk about the negative consequences you’ll have to inflict upon them, like grievance procedures, going over their head, filing out paperwork, and the like. Warning – Don’t make promises you won’t keep. Idle threats teach people that you’re idling. Your goal is to make something out of nothing, not nothing out of something, so that it becomes uncomfortable for the Noting Person to remain silent.
Key Take Aways
Here are my key take aways:
- Allow time for the process. The flow of information is going to be slower so plan for it. You don’t want to be in a situation where time is working against you.
- Ask the right questions. This is one of your best tools in your toolbelt. If you’re not getting the response you want, you might not be asking the right questions.
- Show the ramifications. People aren’t always aware of the impact of their actions (or inactions.) Explaining the impact might help.
What people don’t say can be more important than what they do say.