Wise ways to respond to indifference.
Have any of these things ever happened to you?
- Your boss—or your spouse or partner—takes forever to answer your email or text, if they answer at all.
- You're taken for granted by someone you've worked hard to please.
- You walk down the street and people look right past you.
- You race to meet someone on time…and the person no-shows.
- You submit a job application and don’t even get a rejection letter.
As Elie Wiesel wrote, “The opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s indifference.” Indeed, being ignored can feel worse even than being rejected, making you feel as if you don’t matter at all. When you’re often treated with indifference, you can tend to write yourself off as unworthy. If that's your default emotion, are you asking for too much? Should you work to improve something about yourself, such as your attitude when you make requests of others?
Marty Nemko Ph.D.has been career and personal coach to 4,500 clients and enjoys a 96% client-satisfaction rate. The author of seven books (250,000 copies sold) including How to Do Life: What They Didn’t Teach You in School (link is external) plus over 2,000(!) published articles, including on Time.com
Editor: Saad Shaheed
Consider those issues but more often, being ignored is a sign of the times. In our careening lives, courtesy can be a casualty. So if your email is ignored, perhaps it isn’t you.
The following may be reassuring:
Having felt that my usual donations to nonprofit groups didn't yield enough good, I wrote a blog post offering to give $100 to $500 to people who believed the money would help them make a difference. All I required was an email explaining what they’d do with the money. Guess how many responses I got?
One. Even when I’m giving away free money, I’m ignored. Perhaps it’s balming to know you’re not alone.
But let's turn to possible solutions for each of the above situations:
Your boss or spouse takes forever, if ever, to answer your emails.
Tactfully raising the issue may yield improvement without getting yourself viewed as high-maintenance. For example, you might try something like, "We all have our pet peeves. I must admit that mine is getting frustrated when I don't get a reasonably prompt response to important emails. I know you're under a lot of pressure but I'd consider it a favor if, where possible, you got back to me say within 24 hours if only to say, "I'm swamped but will get back to you in a week on this."
You're taken for granted by someone you've worked hard to please.
Again, a tactful request for what you want may help. For example, "As I think you know, I've been trying pretty hard to please you but it seems I haven't done a good enough job. I'm feeling a little neglected. For example, I'm always really interested in how your day went but you seem to not pay much attention when I tell you about mine. Am I misunderstanding something?
You walk down the street and people look right past you.
Do you want to try establishing eye contact and smiling at people? Experiment with clothes, hair, or makeup that might attract more attention? Even venture a nice comment such as, "I love that pin you're wearing," or "Is this not the most beautiful weather?" Stranger things have happened than small talk spawning a nice conversation and even a relationship.
You race to meet someone on-time and they no-show.
Don't jump to conclusions. Perhaps really something unavoidable happened. So start with something like," Are you okay? When you didn't show, I worried you might have been in a car accident or something." Assuming they just screwed up, they'll probably apologize at that point. If they don't, instead of wimping out with something like, "No big deal," you might try, "It happens." and then deliberately sigh. That gets the point across without making the person unnecessarily defensive and, if only unconsciously, more likely to treat you badly in the future.
Your get no response to a job application.
You're understandably annoyed—You put in all that effort and they don't even have the decency to reply?! You might try a phone call or even just an email like, "I was excited about this job because I feel I'm a good fit and think I'd do a great job for you but I haven't heard anything. Am I still being considered?"
Perhaps most important, it might help to remind yourself that you can't control others but have some measure of control over yourself. So try to replace needing others' affirmations with your own self-appraisal. How wonderful if our sense of self-worth derived more from whether we feel we're a good person than how some self-absorbed egotists treat us.
Finally, a word to the perpetrators:
If you frequently ignore others, remember that you’re dealing with human beings. You may well hurt the feelings of people you ignore or respond to dilatorily. Might you want to leave just a bit of room in your crowded day for a little extra courtesy? For example, instead of ignoring someone’s email until you (may) find time to provide a full answer, promptly send a one-liner such as, “I’ll get back to you next week on this.” And if you’re ignoring a person because you don’t like having to say no, realize that silence may actually hurt the person more—as he or she is left waiting, hanging indefinitely. It needn’t take much of your time. A quick, “I’m sorry, we can’t work with you on your idea,” plus a brief reason, is better than leaving a person waiting for Godot.