How to React when People Ignore You

Three Parts:Asking Why You’re Getting the Silent TreatmentBacking OffResolving the Conflict With Someone Who Is Ignoring You

Being ignored hurts. Deciding how to react can be confusing, especially when you don’t know if you’re being deliberately or accidentally ignored. Your reaction should take into account whether or not the individual in question ignores you on a regular basis and what their communication style is. Understanding why others ignore will help you react in a healthy, proactive way.

Part 1
Asking Why You’re Getting the Silent Treatment

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    Ask yourself why the person ignoring you might be doing so.[1] They might be purposely or accidentally ignoring you. Think back to the last time you spoke to them -- were they angry or hostile toward you? Did you say something to offend them? If so, they are probably still stewing over whatever it was set them off in the first place. On the other hand, if you had a great time with them last time, there’s probably some intervening factor which has led them to ignore you inadvertently. Perhaps they are busy studying for a test or have become infatuated with a new love interest.
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    Ask a third party why you’re being ignored. If the person ignoring you is a friend or coworker, ask a mutual friend or coworker if they might know why you’re being ignored. Perhaps this mutual friend could identify or explain to you why the person ignoring you is doing so. Perhaps you’ve angered them without realizing it but rather than telling you so directly, they’ve decided to just ignore you to avoid deepening the conflict. A third party might be able to examine the situation more objectively and help you figure out why you’re being ignored.
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    Ask the person ignoring you directly why they’re ignoring you. Confront the individual who is ignoring you. Ask them to talk privately. In a quiet, private place, calmly ask “Hey, I was wondering why you’ve been ignoring me?” Present evidence that they’ve been ignoring you, such as not returning your calls or emails, or not responding when you speak to them. Listen attentively to their explanation.[2]
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    Recognize manipulative behavior. If this is the first time the person has ignored you, there may be a good reason. However, if your friend or coworker has made a pattern out of ignoring you or others, they may be getting some satisfaction from the act.[3] They may, alternately, be using silence to evoke an apology or acquiescence to a certain demand. Finally, they might be ignoring you to disempower you: you might hear them say “If you really knew me / loved me, you wouldn’t have to ask why I’m ignoring you.” All the foregoing examples indicate a narcissistic personality which should be recognized and not catered to.

Part 2
Backing Off

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    Judge the person ignoring you by their actions. Suppose you confront the person ignoring you and they say they understand where you’re coming. Perhaps they even apologize for ignoring you. Afterwards, though, they go back to ignoring you. In this case, you must understand that they are being insincere, and do not really have an interest in maintaining a positive relationship with you.
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    Accept the other person’s decision to put distance between you.[4] Don’t continue pushing them to apologize for ignoring you, or appealing to them to explain how their behavior makes you feel when you’ve already done so. Someone who chronically shows you the cold shoulder is likely getting some satisfaction from doing so; don’t play their game by trying to mediate the issue over and over.
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    Don’t blame yourself for their behavior.[5] If someone continuously ignores you even after you’ve attempted to reconcile with them, that’s their decision. You should not fret about things you could have said or done differently to make them more attentive to you or your perspective.
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    Keep the door open. Let your friend or family member who is ignoring you know that you hope for reconciliation.[6] Don’t give up on them. Some people have personal problems which need to be confronted before they figure out how to maintain healthy relationships. Let them know that you’re there for them if they ever want to talk or need help.

Part 3
Resolving the Conflict With Someone Who Is Ignoring You

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    Think about the problem as a difference in communication styles.[7] Assume that your friend or partner is not ignoring you to be malicious. It’s likely your partner is ignoring you simply to avoid deepening and extending a conflict. They probably want to get some breathing space and let you both cool down for a bit after a conflict. When you understand your partner’s different understanding of the silent treatment, you will be in a better position to make up with them later and avoid deepening the conflict.
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    Accept your feelings. When you’re ignored by someone you care about, it hurts. You might feel frustrated, angry, and sad that you’re being ignored. If you feel this way, don’t pretend that you don’t.[8] Accepting your feelings is the first step toward expressing yourself and letting the other party know they’re being unkind.
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    Employ structured conversation. Structured conversations are those which are schedules at a particular time for a particular purpose, and unfold with a particular set of rules which forbid things like yelling and name-calling. In a structured conversation, both parties are prepared to confront the issue in front of them and have rehearsed their basic talking points.[9] Suggesting structured conversations can be useful if someone is ignoring you because of a longstanding problem or set of problems which prevents you from forging a deeper emotional connection.
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    Stray outside your comfort zone. Try a different style of communication for yourself.[10] If you’re a “hot” conflict communicator -- constantly yelling, getting angry, and flaring up emotionally -- try to exercise more control in the heat of the moment. If you’re a “cool” conflict communicator -- you ignore the other person, leave to give yourself space when a conflict occurs, and try to explain yourself and your point of view only after taking a few minutes to consider your response -- put more immediacy and emotion into your conflict resolution behavior (but don’t get carried away yelling and cursing).
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    Exchange apologies as necessary. If you realize in the course of the person’s explanation that you’ve hurt their feelings, you should explain that you didn’t mean to and that you’re sorry. But be firm when explaining that you feel hurt as well by the way they’ve been ignoring you. Forgive the person who has been ignoring you and express your hope that they can find it within themselves to forgive you too, should you feel you need it.[11]
    • Sometimes it is hard to understand why people are upset by the things we do or say that seem innocuous. If the other person has a weak or unintelligible reason for ignoring you, it’s nice to apologize nonetheless.


  • Give the person ignoring you time. And slowly start talking to them again! If they really want your friendship then they wouldn't ignore you for a long time.
  • If someone is ignoring them and you're not sure why, talk to them and try to solve the issue.
  • Often, people ignore others when they need time and space to work out personal issues. Don’t take it personally, and respect the individual’s right to privacy.

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Categories: Manners | Managing Conflict and Difficult Interactions