How to Shut People Down


Are you handy? Do you enjoy cross-stitching? Restoring hot rods? Decorating cupcakes? Making snowmen out of styrofoam balls? Or perhaps you’re good at home repairs. Or making furniture. Or sewing your own clothes. Me? Not so much.

Okay, I can tie a few flies (for fly-fishing). And I can put together a couple 2x4s and make a BBQ table. Or season an iron skillet. At one point, I really enjoyed calligraphy, building models, and making architectural drawings. But I can’t honestly say that anyone would call me “handy.” And at this point in my life, I often pay for some handyman (or neighboring high school student) to paint a room, cut the grass, or pour a concrete sidewalk. In fairness, I’ve recently replaced the headlight bulbs in my Toyota Prius, built two BBQ tables, and restrung the pull-cord on my Honda push mower. But handy? No. And even those things I can do (like paint), aren’t satisfying to me. I’d rather pay someone else to do them.

And this is “doubly” true for plumbing projects. If I were a plumber, I’d starve to death. My family, too. I simply can’t get the hang of it. So when we moved into our house a year ago, I had a dilemma. I had a kitchen faucet that didn’t work properly. This presented a limited number of options: 1) I could live with it. Which wasn’t a good option since I’m married. 2) I could try to fix it. Which wasn’t a good idea because of my poor plumbing skills. or 3) I could pay someone to come install a new one. Of course I chose option #3. I won’t tell you how much it cost in Connecticut to install a kitchen faucet, but it was a LOT. Even so, it was worth it to me (and my wife!).

The nice thing about the new faucet was that it worked. It was simple to turn on and simple to turn off. And it was effective. When I turned the faucet on, water came out. When I turned the faucet off, the water stopped. Voila! Okay, so I had to fork over some hard-earned cash, but the faucet worked. Easy on, easy off. A year later, the faucet still functions well. When you turn it on, water comes out. When you turn it off, the water stops. No drips. No leaks. I’m a happy camper.

Recently, I was reminded how easy it is to shut off people. Quickly. Like a properly installed, high-quality faucet. And while there may be many ways to shut people off, this might be one of the quickest. So here it is.

You ask someone for their ideas, inputs, thoughts or to explain what happened, and in the middle of their response, you cut them off. You berate them. You belittle them. You embarrass them. Guess what will happen? They’ll shut off like a properly installed, high-quality faucet. I’ve seen it happen. First-hand. Have you?

During my most recent experience, I saw an individual approach a “boss” (parent, higher ranking officer, senior leader, etc.) and ask for help with a challenging situation. The situation was complicated and involved another individual. The “employee” asked for help and the boss asked to hear the details of the situation. While the employee was explaining the situation, the boss got upset, cut off the employee, raised their voice, and took over the conversation. The employee never had an opportunity to finish describing the situation. The boss interrupted, jumped to an incorrect conclusion, and effectively shut-down the employee. What made it worse was the employee was an introvert.

The boss didn’t demonstrate skills in listening, empathy, problem-solving, or servant leadership. In short, I witnessed a mini leadership and communication “disaster.” The employee won’t bring problems (or solutions) forward again.

Trust me. I know it’s not easy. But please don’t interrupt people, especially if you’ve asked them to share. Please listen and listen empathetically. Listening, empathizing, and connecting (whether you disagree or not) is important whether you’re a friend, neighbor, brother, teammate, sister, roommate, or boss. Especially if you’re the boss. Why? Because your words and behaviors matter. They truly matter.

In the particular situation I described, I ended up coaching/counseling both the “employee” and “boss.” The boss didn’t understand why the employee shut down and didn’t say anything else. The employee didn’t understand why the boss was mean and uncaring.

If you want to shut people down. Ignore them. Interrupt. Don’t empathize. Don’t validate. Don’t actively listen. And remember, this is especially true if you’re the “boss,” you’re asking for another’s opinion, or you’re dealing with someone who tends toward introversion. Shut down an extrovert and they’ll be quiet for an hour. Shut down an introvert and they’ll be quiet for a year.

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

Dr. is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]


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One thought on “How to Shut People Down

  1. Like it! But I felt like you were talking directly to me – about both not being “handy” and about shutting others off. As a choleric personality I often pray that I will be more like James 3:17 — “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.” My “gem” of the article – “Shut down an extrovert and they’ll be quiet for an hour. Shut down an introvert and they’ll be quiet for a year.”

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