Wouldn’t it be great to always know how to avoid the awkward silence? In this article, you’ll learn to avoid awkward and uncomfortable silence during a conversation, as well as what to do when they happen.
How To Prevent & Avoid The Awkward Silence
Have you ever been in a conversation where there is that awful, awkward silence? Your mind goes blank when you talk and you really don’t know what to say next. It can be one of the most painful social experiences and maybe even put you off of socializing in the first place.
With this in mind, it is clearly essential to learn how to avoid awkward silences during conversations. Here we guide you through some effective steps that will put you at ease.
1. Mention a variety of subjects for others to ask you about later
Talk about yourself and be prepared to touch upon a variety of stories. Think about your hobbies, interests, work, and events in your life.
The more topics you can touch upon, the more opportunities you give the other person to ask you questions. There are two people in the conversation and you will feel half the burden to avoid awkward silences if you offer them topics to pick up on too.
2. Take note of information gaps in what others say
Now, switch this around. They will have left certain details out or not offered a lot of depth. This gives you the perfect opportunity to prompt them for more depth. Listen carefully and note down any questions you could potentially ask about.
If they have just told you that they nearly missed the event because of an unwell relative, then ask them how this person is feeling now. If they tell you that they watched an episode of their favorite program and was disappointed, encourage them to offer details about what was wrong.
People often need prompts from the other to know that a topic of conversation is interesting to both parties.
3. Get rid of self-doubt to avoid awkward silences
Self-doubt, nervousness, and anxiety often lead to awkward silences and running out of things to say. You need to get rid of them…
When socializing there is no time to “think” yourself out of insecurity. You need to just shake it off. Keep moving, if you can. Go do something and come back, maybe go to the bathroom. When at the bathroom move physically and shake your head a little bit, maybe wash your face.
If you have to, counter negative self-talk. For instance, “What? What the hell are you talking about? Would you leave me alone, please?” Or “Whatever! Whatever! I’m just here to have a good time” or “I don’t care, I’ll think about this later, I don’t have time for analysis” In a way, on location, while socializing, you gotta procrastinate the negative self-talk. There is no time to analyze and “argue” with it.
4. Bring others into the conversation
If you’re in a social gathering and the person you’re talking to is giving you too many short answers, then you might sense that sooner or later, there will be an awkward silence. You are having to work hard with lots of questions and responses, but they are giving nothing in return.
A good way to mitigate that is to include others in the conversation. It could be that the other person is distracted or finds social situations harder than you.
Maybe you have a friend nearby or their friend is close to hand. Try to include them in the interaction with a question or by extending something you are talking about to include them too. You may even be able to do this with just eye contact or your body language.
By including someone else there is less pressure on each of you to fill silences, as it becomes a group conversation.
5. Find their conversation “hot topics”
Each person has a set of topics they’ll love to keep talking about for as long as you’re willing to listen. As you go from topic to topic, you’ll see that they’re particularly interested and excited about one or more subjects.
Make a note of those because you can bring them up whenever you’re worried that you’re running out of things to say next.
If you find a topic they enjoy, you may want to keep the conversation going for a lot longer using questions. However, it might be that you pull the conversation back to this at a future point when other lines of conversation seem to be drying up.
6. Stay focused on the conversation
A sure way to lose the thread of a conversation is to get distracted. You receive a text message or an email, you stop the flow of the chat to check it. Two things happen – you stop the other person from being able to make a comment or finish what they are saying.
Alternatively, you lose the line of thought you were progressing and you are now relying on the other person to pick up the cues for you.
Not only is it rude to stop a conversation for a distraction, but it also makes the likelihood of awkward silences higher. You will make the other person feel ill-at-ease and so unable to feel confident in the conversation.
What To Do About Awkward Silences When They Happen
1. Don’t take the full blame for the awkward silence
The key here is to not panic if there is an awkward silence. You may feel that the other person is condemning you for the silence, or that it is their turn to talk and you don’t feel you can speak up.
The truth is that the other person is likely desperately searching their memory banks for top conversational topics too. So, avoid focusing on the other person too much and what they might be thinking. Instead, work to find a way of beginning the conversation again with a new topic.
2. Talk about the environment you’re in
Sometimes the pressure to continue talking about our lives and our experiences becomes too much pressure. Lots of chat that focuses on the other person can be intense.
A way to deflect the attention (and the pressure) from you and the person you’re talking to, is to point towards the environment and the location you’re in. Talking about the environment you’re in is one of the easiest things to talk about.
For example: “Isn’t this a great view?…” and the conversation will turn outwards and you are talking about the view. Or, “I kind of like this place – have you been here before?” and you’re talking about restaurants or bars, or wherever the type of location you’re in – with the eye contact reduced and permission is given to scan away from the other person.
3. If you were planning to go do something else, now is the time
When there is a slight silence in the conversation, it’s time to go do anything you were planning to do anyway.
Maybe you’ve been meaning to go say hi to a friend on the other side of the room. Maybe you need to check on the food you’re cooking if you are the host that is throwing a dinner party. Or maybe it’s time to go to the bathroom or fetch another round of drinks, or just go home entirely.
Silence is also a good time to suggest doing something else: “Hey, do you wanna go check the bar upstairs?” or “Where shall we go after this? Any ideas?”
Silence can be a good time to end the conversation entirely, to introduce a break to come back, or to suggest an activity.
4. Not every silence is an awkward silence
It is normal for there to be silences in conversation. Imagine you’re traveling by car for a few hours. It would be difficult to sustain this conversation throughout, and exhausting. Therefore, sometimes it is a good idea just to let the uncomfortable silences happen. Even the most outgoing and extroverted people embrace silences from time to time.
It is essential to realize that silence is not the enemy of conversation. It does not have to be destroyed at all costs! Learn to read the signs and realize that comfortable silences are the sign of a strong relationship – one that is likely developing into a friendship.
5. Use the “At least I’m trying!” method
When we go out to socialize, we don’t want to get stuck talking about work, school, upbringing, and stick to only exchanging facts with each other. We instead want to have fun, have interesting conversations, and build connections.
But sometimes, it’s just not happening with someone and there is that dreaded awkward silence.
Sometimes we need to fall back on the “boring” conversations and realize that we are at least trying to keep the conversation moving forward.
Pressure and stress are the enemy of good conversation. They are what creates the awkward silence.
A lot of the issues with silence and conversation boils down to pressure. We suddenly feel the weight of expectation and with the weight comes blankness.
With any approach you take to relieving those moments of awkward silence, you should aim to make yourself and the other person as comfortable and confident as possible.
Sometimes this will mean walking away and coming back to the conversation after a break. Sometimes this will mean lowering the expectation of your conversational brilliance and fill in with some small talk. You will then be able to navigate the flow of the chat more comfortably.