59

Background:

I’m a 22-year-old woman, my brother is a 25-year-old man. We were close growing up, but around high school we drifted apart. As of now I wouldn’t say there’s much friendship between us at all—though to be clear, there is also no animosity. I’ve come to realize that it’s very important to me to have a closer relationship with my brother, and I think the roadblock is our differing communication styles.

For me, friendships are definitely about talking. When my friends and I hang out whatever we end up doing is really just a backdrop for our conversation. I know I’m close to someone because we talk often, I enjoy hearing their perspective, and I feel like I can tell them anything.

My brother is very different. He very rarely initiates conversation-- I cant' think of a single instance-- and usually responds non-verbally or with very few words when people speak to him. I don’t think he’s shy or uncomfortable in social situations—he actually has a very large circle of friends, and goes out to bars and parties several nights a week. I also don’t think it’s only around me that he becomes quiet, because even his best friends joke that they’ve never heard his voice. This is also not a matter of shallow vs. deep friendships, as I am certain that there are strong emotional bonds between my brother and his closest friends.

I want to clarify that I never get unfriendly or disinterested vibes from him. He’s a perfectly nice guy, but also a very quiet guy.

What I’ve tried:

My normal approach when I want to make friends is to ask leading questions until I hit on something they love to talk about. That approach emphatically does not work here. I’ll say something, he’ll smile and say about two words (or none at all), then the conversation goes dead until I say something else.

Because my brother has formed close friendships that don't seem to involve much talking, I don't believe that talking is his primary method of relating to others. I think I need a new way of befriending my brother that doesn’t rely on having a conversation.

Question:

How do I become friends with someone who doesn’t like to talk? Or, more generally, what besides conversation can be the basis of a friendship?

Notes:

I’m not looking for other ways to initiate conversation. I really want to reach out to him in a way that gels with his communication style, not in a way that gels with mine.

I am especially interested in hearing from other people who don’t like to talk, or who have friends that don’t like to talk.

  • 9
    Playing devil's advocate, why do you think you need to 'befriend' your own brother? in your 20s? Isn't there a bond already? Isn't this just the time of life to break free of family and explore the world? Both of you? What are his needs in this situation? Is he going through something he isn't going to share with you? If so, isn't this OK? Don't you have enough friends you can talk to? And, seriously, 'what besides conversation can be the basis of a friendship' really gives the game away. He is already your brother. No further basis required. – user207421 Jun 9 at 11:06
  • 7
    "As of now I wouldn’t say there’s much friendship between us at all—though to be clear, there is also no animosity." - do you know this? Is it possible he believes you to be good friends and have a good relationship already? – TessellatingHeckler Jun 9 at 17:10
75

I'm not much of a talker myself and my father isn't either. However, every Saturday my father will ask me to come grocery shopping with him and I will agree (even though I no longer live at my parent house which means that the food which is bought these days isn't even for me).

I don't really like to do grocery shopping and my father definitively doesn't need me to come with him. However, he likes having me there with him, and this is definitely a bonding time for us.

For your brother, going shopping with him might not be an option (because he might not like shopping) but what I would suggest doing is finding an activity that he likes (and you like too) and doing it with him.

For example, with my little sister, we have spent a huge amount of time playing video games together and it was definitely a precious bonding time for us.

Some people like walking, drawing, playing sports, going to events, etc, etc... What you need to do is find something that you both like and try to do it with him. You might not find something that you both like at first, but it's okay. Finding a common interest can take some time.

Note:

Basically, this is the same technique that you have used so far but, instead of finding a topic he likes to talk about, you are now trying to find something that he likes to do.

A warning note:

Remember that your brother might have different needs that you do. He might need more quiet and alone time than you.

My mother keeps pushing me for doing stuff with her and I have to refuse most of the time because she will always stay too long at whatever event she wants us to go which would exhaust me. So her decision to stay longer (to have more fun time together) even when I definitely want to go home is counterproductive because it makes me less likely to do something else with her in the future.

21

Let him listen

Some quiet people don't necessarily need silence. They like conversations; they just don't want to contribute. So rather than asking him questions, try just telling him things. It's preferable to pick subjects he enjoys. But of course, you may not know which subjects he enjoys.

Ask him

Every once in a while, when you face a choice between either ending the story or going into more detail, ask him if he wants you to continue. Consider saying something like "Am I talking too much? Maybe you'd rather I just be quiet for a while."

If he says, yes, then that's a clear signal that this is the wrong approach or at least the wrong subject. You can engage in companionable silence for a while. Wait for another visit where you can try again with a different subject.

If he equivocates (e.g. "Well, maybe a little."), that suggests that he values your conversation but is currently feeling drained by it. In the short term, treat it like a yes. But consider the possibility that you just need to calibrate it. Maybe it was the right approach but it just went on too long. Next time try a shorter story.

If he says no, that suggests that he's enjoying the conversation. Continue the story. Watch for signs of restlessness. If you see them, either wrap up the story or ask him again if it's lasting too long.

Note: this approach is not for everyone and may not be right for your brother. That's why you ask him for feedback. If it's wrong for him, then you can try something else.

Invite him

Plan on a group activity. A picnic, game night, movie night, whatever you do with your friends. Invite some of your friends, him, and possibly some of his friends. Watch how he interacts with other people. Maybe you'll be able to have similar interactions.

Don't worry if he doesn't always come. Keep it low key. Let him control what invitations he accepts and which ones he ignores. You can then be more aggressive about hosting the ones that he is most likely to attend. Your other friends can host the ones he'd skip anyway.

Ask his friends

If he's bringing his friends to group outings, occasionally talk to his friends and ask them what he likes to do. Go ahead and be open. E.g. "Sometimes I have trouble communicating with him. Do you have the same problem? What works for you? What do you do together?"

18

My father does not talk (or when he talks socially he is quite awkward). He is a brilliant guy with a huge knowledge, it is just that he does not want and does not know how to chat.

He met a new family member (someone who married into my family) during a family gathering, someone like him. At some point, we realized in horror that we left them both alone in a room and rushed to save them from forced chit chat.

We found two men sitting more or less in front of each other and enormously enjoying their mutual presence. No words were exchanged and they did not feel weird at all. They still enjoy from time to time to sit together and do not speak.

This is to say that you may want to just sit with him and do something which does not require physical (as in talking) interaction. You can read, work, or whatever. There may be some attempts to chat initially but once he realizes that it is fine to be with you in silence he should appreciate it very much.

One of my children is like this too - he likes to read with us being around.

7

As a strong silent type, I want connection, but do not enjoy initiating conversation or the innate obligation to communicate.

Invite to Join

Instead of asking how our day, week, or weekend, went, ask if we are up to joining an activity.

Interact Non-Verbally

Observing and interacting non-verbally are enjoyable. Wither it's sitting in silence or doing an activity such as tossing a ball, reading, drawing, running, hiking, people or bird watching, a movie, a sports or video game; or enjoying a slow dance, painting, landscape, waterfall or sunset.

Living and Being within the Moment

For us, talking is rarely about observables such as about a person or place. Which takes the fun out of observing and figuring things out ourselves. Place a puzzle or toy in front of us, and see how intently we interact with it until we figure it out. And, having a shared moment with us, rarely occurs from a conversation, of which we talk of the past or future, but mostly occurs when living and being within the moment. For example, what happened at lunch, 4 hours ago, may verge on oversharing or gossip.

Avoid Broad Opening Statements

Along with finding gossip, small talk, icebreaker questions and talking about ourselves as being tedious. Avoid statements such as: "So you like to run." or "So you like video games." these type of questions will receive a yes/no answer. To our mind you're either making an obvious statement, triggering the obligation to talk, or the simple question requires a simple answer. Instead, ask, "What are you training for?" or "What game are you playing right now?", "What's your favorite place to run? or game to play?"

Ask for Help or Advice

Asking for help or advice, or have us teach you something. You may find we can talk for hours.

Follow-up Questions are Necessary!

It might take a follow-up question or two, to get us actively talking about the subject. It's follow-up questions which show you're interested. Along with a strong preference not to overshare, we won't bother if you don't seem interested.

Time to Recharge

We are introverts. We need quiet time, in a stress free, quiet environment to recharge. If we start to pull away, look tired, or our mood has changed, the day or night interacting with others has taken its toll and we feel mentally drained.

  • 1
    Hi Brian! I really appreciate the fact that you keep improving this answer, but please try to make big edits, instead of a lot of small ones. Every edit puts this question on top of the 'active' posts list and with the number of edits you're making, you're creating automatic flags for us moderators to handle too ;) You've made 12 small edits over a little more than two hours, repeatedly putting a two week old post on top of the active page, which is not really supposed to happen. Try to make a big draft and single, big edits, please, instead of adding one sentence/paragraph/thing at a time. – Tinkeringbell Jun 24 at 17:49
4

I had a friend whom hated to talk. We became close because we allowed a perfect solemn silence to exist in our encounters. We had long history and to get her to open up by simply showing her something from our youth together. It triggered memories that brought out a strand of recognition of trust... that began a conversation that continues today as though the last 25 years never passed.

Try find a memento from your mutual past that he loved and has probably forgotten and give it as a silent gift. No spoken words can convey the meaning of shared history.

  • 3
    Hi Rhodie! Welcome to IPS. I'm unsure what you're suggesting OP to try with their brother, could you please edit your answer to expand a bit on what you think could work (which techniques to try exactly to get closer together with their brother) and why? – avazula Jun 8 at 16:37
  • 1
    Also, feel free to have a look on our tour and on this page from the help center giving tips on how to write a good answer, and don't hesitate to reach us if you have questions or need help. Have a great time among us! – avazula Jun 8 at 16:39
4

For a lot of males (and indeed for some introverts of any gender), an activity isn't the backdrop of a chance for conversation. Whether it's social conditioning or something fairly common in males in a more general sense, being together doing something without conversation can be rewarding of itself, while forced conversation can be stressful. [I'm not saying this is true of all males by any means.]

In my experience, males often seem to bond over an activity, but in many such cases, conversation is far from central to it. Indeed, sometimes it's deliberately avoided ("Shut up, you'll scare the fish." "So why did we come fishing?" "Because it's quiet"). On the other hand, conversations will occur, but they're not the aim, and they may take quite some time to get started. They're also not necessarily on the topics you might expect to talk about with your friends.

You might be able to (i) find an activity you both enjoy, and (ii) find conversation topics he cares about (there are likely some), rather than focusing on topics that you might normally tend to talk about. But don't necessarily expect to have a nice old chat; that may be far from enjoyable for him.

I have one person I currently spend a fair bit of time with who doesn't talk. In six months of regular time together (an average of a couple of hours per week), I may have heard him say a dozen words in total (though he has probably mumbled another dozen I couldn't make out), if you don't count "hi" and "bye". He keeps coming and indicates enjoyment.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.