How Do You Engage with Someone Who is Shutting Down?

Mar 02, 2021
How Do You Engage with Someone Who is Shutting Down? Conversations Worth Having

Monday Kickstarters is a working session designed for everyone on the call to figure out how to have conversations worth having when faced with a tough situation or problem. The process is based upon the book, Conversations Worth Having.  

You can listen live to this session on Vimeo.

Monday, March 1 we discussed three topics: Presenting resources on mental health for teacher in ways that don’t overwhelm them, developing trust virtually, and engaging someone who has shut down.

Resources for Teachers in Covid Overwhelm

  • Name it: Teachers are overwhelmed with Covid, school, home. They’re also responsible for the mental health of their own families, the school children, and themselves. I’m doing a presentation on all the many mental health resources that can support them, but that will add to their overwhelm.
  • Flip it: Teachers are resilient and managing; they’re not overwhelmed by all the resources.
  • Frame it: Building a strong, collaborative, supportive community helps teachers easily identify the resources they need.

Other possible frames that were suggested:

  • Teachers have renewed energy to give their best every day.
  • Teachers and students are thriving and learning.
  • I’m sharing exactly the resources they need and no more.
  • Teachers can easily identify the resources they need.
  • Building a strong collaborative supportive community through shared resources.
  • Teachers feel supported and can positively address their students’ needs because of that support.
  • Teachers are confident in their support and ability to teach and reach their students.
  • Teachers are comfortable with their workload and are effectively using resources they are given.

Notice how the person combined a couple of these to created a positive frame that spoke to the outcomes the was hoping for!

Additional Generative Questions from the Chatbox:
  • What are the existing strategies that are helping preserve emotional/mental health?
  • When have you been at your best over the past (week, month, year)?  What did you do to make that happen?
  • What are the support mechanisms in place for teachers to easily access?
  • If you were to prioritize your three highest needs to most effectively serve yourself and, thereby, your students, what would they be?
  • How can we identify which resources are most appropriate and effective in supporting mental health needs?
  • How is mental health being tied into student learning?
  • What resources do you have that work for you to support your mental health?
  • What resources are available to support our students needs?
  • What have we learned about adult mental health during the pandemic?
  • How might integrating mental health activities or support mechanisms lighten our load?

Building Trust in a Virtual Environment

  • Name it: I’m starting a job that will be 100% remote. I have no idea how to connect with my team and prospects when it’s all technical.
  • Flip it: I know how to connect with my virtual team and prospects.
  • Frame it: I can establish meaningful, trusting relationships while working remotely.

Other frames that were suggested:

  • An engaging working environment achieved through a virtual platform.
  • Despite a 100% virtual environment, I am creating a connected, supportive work team based on trust and positive relationships.
  • High performance virtual team meeting the needs of everyone.
  • I am easily able to learn the tech to meet new prospects and collaborate with my co-workers.
  • I am able to engage and connect with trust and positivity with my team.
  • Virtual introduction to properly connect in order to build trust.

Additional Generative Questions from the Chatbox
  • What experiences of virtual connection have felt authentic and meaningful?
  • How do you build trusting relationships?
  • What would I want to see/hear/experience from a leader who had to reach me remotely?
  • How do you wish to interact with me so that we can build trust between us?
  • What is your level of influence?
  • What makes me feel connected and trusting of others?  How do I relate that in a virtual experience?
  • What peers might be able to share their experiences, or words of wisdom?


Engage your new team members and prospects by asking them some of these questions. Just engaging in a conversation about creating trust in a virtual setting has the potential to elevate trust among those in the conversation. Ask the team if they have norms for meetings that help them show respect, trust and mutuality. A standard Appreciative Inquiry question: Tell me about a highpoint for you in developing trust with a team member/prospect in the virtual world. What did you value about yourself and them? What conditions supported trust-building?

Engaging Someone Who is Shut Down

In this situation, there are many unknowns. Until you make the invisible visible and create shared understanding, you may frame the conversation in a way that reinforces the shut down. So we begin with generative questions.

Additional Generative Questions from the Chatbox:
  • What do you need to reflect on to evaluate what happened?
  • How can we communicate in a way that makes you more comfortable with sharing issues?
  • Is there something specific that happened that we can address?
  • What do you hope to see happen in our working relationship?
  • What does the other person need from you at this time?
  • How can we improve our communication?


(1) Consider substituting ‘might’ for ‘can’ when asking questions. When you ask someone How can we .  . . there is pressure to come up with the one, right answer. When you ask How might we . . . there’s no pressure, there’s an invitation to offer many options.  

(2) Anytime you find yourself asking yourself a question about the other person, DON’T ANSWER!  Turn it around and ask them. If you answer and act on it, you will be making an assumption, which might not be accurate. Asking them builds relationships, assuming can build a relationship if your assumption is correct, but if not, it can hurt your relationship. For example, the question above: What does the other person need from you at this time? If you know the answer, this is a great reflective question. If you’re not sure, flip it and ask them, What do you need from me at this time?


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