Moments of silence inevitably creep into conversations, and often these silences become awkward. Your mind races and you rush to think of things to say to fill the gap.
Too often, you end up saying whatever words come to your mind, and they may come out a bit jumbled and leave you embarrassed.
But what people often forget is that these moments of silence are the best part of a conversation. Sometimes the silence between the words can communicate more effectively than words alone. Here’s how to deal with awkward silences in a conversation.
When a conversation slows down, try these tips to keep things from going downhill quickly:
- Remind yourself that silence is normal. Silence in a conversation usually becomes awkward if there is pressure or an expectation of how the conversation should flow.
Remind yourself that silence is normal, and you are not the only one responsible for keeping the conversation going. If you stay confident and controlled, your body sends messages to your brain to cool down. Quick silences happen between people all the time. You can restart after a short break of silence.
- Learn to relax. When you realize that the silence is causing you to become anxious, take a deep, relaxing breath. Taking a deep breath helps calm your mind and body. If you are unable to relax, force yourself to relax. If you come across as nervous and terrified, many times the person you are talking to can feel the nervous emotions as well. This will further make it difficult for your conversation to move forward.
So, take a deep breath, drop your shoulders, and smile. Lean back on the wall or take a sip if you have a drink in your hand. Let your mind wander. This will give you 5 to 10 minutes to relax and then you can speak up.
- Notice little details about the person. Try to notice something about the person you are talking to. For instance: If the person is carrying an attractive phone, you can comment, ‘By the way, what phone is that? It looks nice.’
This will make the person relax and warm up to you. You will notice that he or she will start talking about the phone in detail.
- Be curious about the person you are talking to. Curiosity will help you to be genuinely interested in people. If you don’t value other people or if you are not genuinely interested in other people, they will sense it. So, be genuinely interested and look forward to learning about the other person.
- Take cues from the situation. Take signals from your partner and take the conversation accordingly. If you think your partner is comfortable with the conversation, share more deeply. Also, ask deeper questions. If not, try to keep it slow and steady. But try to keep the conversation flowing by asking questions.
- Find something safe to comment on. When you run out of words in a conversation, comment on something non-threatening. For instance: Weather is something that is a common and safe topic to discuss. Say something like, ‘Don’t you find the weather pleasant today?’ Talk about food if you are out for dinner. ‘Isn’t this the best lasagna you’ve had in town?’
- Ask open-ended questions. To prevent silences from becoming awkward in a conversation, shift the focus to the person you are talking to. Ask easy, open-ended questions. Always ask people how they feel about things. For instance: If they tell you they went bungee jumping, ask them, ‘How was the experience to jump from such a height?’ or ‘Did you feel scared?’ This is a good way to let people talk and move the conversation along. Also, make sure to ask about the person’s thoughts and feelings on the topic you are discussing. If you show genuine interest in knowing the person, it will make him or her talk to you more openly. You will see the person contributing more to the conversation, thereby lowering the chance of long, awkward silences.
- Give people a chance to explain something. The idea here is to ask questions that will prompt the other person to respond, so you should ask open-ended questions. You can ask questions that will make them talk about something in detail. If the answer you receive does not move the conversation forward, ask further questions inviting them to explain how something was or something works. You can ask a question in the form of a statement like, ‘You seem to have a lot of experience with that,’ rather than asking them, ‘Do you have a lot of experience with that?’
- Avoid flat responses yourself. While talking, try to avoid flat responses like ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ in a conversation. This will shut down the conversation. Basically, the idea is to ask something that can be responded to in detail. Your goal should be to make the conversation easier for your partner.
For instance: If they ask you, ‘Isn’t that boring,’ don’t respond with a simple ‘yes’. That will lull your conversation. Instead say, ‘Yes it is boring, but it’s okay for me. I can handle such situations. What about you? What do you do when you are in such a situation?’
- Always end your statement with a question. Make sure to end your statement with a question. It will prompt the other person to talk. For instance: If you say, ‘I like Will Smith’s movie,’ continue by asking, ‘What do you think about his acting?’
- Think of a previous topic. You were talking to a person and suddenly the conversation ran dry, as the person said something and you did not know what to say. At such a point, start on a topic you were talking about earlier. Go back to any previous topic that you were discussing and ask questions related to that. You can even talk about something you had discussed when you last met the person or from the last phone conversation you had. For instance: ‘The last time we met, you were talking about visiting Miami? So how was it?’
- Come up with something funny. Laughter is the best medicine, and it is also one of the best ways to break an awkward silence in a conversation. Saying something funny will relax both people involved in the conversation and is great to break the ice. Just make sure your humor is genuine.
- Don’t be interrogating. Don’t go overboard asking too many questions, one right after the other. When you are asking someone questions, break in with a statement or a comment that reveals something about you or what you think. Don’t make the person you are talking to feel as if he or she shares more than you do. For instance: ‘Where are you from?’ ‘What do you do for a living?’ ‘How do you know people here?’ Asking lots of questions will make you appear interrogating.
- Bring in a third person. Introduce a third person into the conversation. This can be effective when the conversation between you and someone else is not really moving ahead. When you bringing in a new person, you are introducing two new people to each other. This means allowing them to talk, while you chip in when needed. If they hit it off well, you can go and do your work or get out of the conversation.
- Use a new conversation starter. If a silence settles into your conversation, try to bring up a new topic to keep the chatter flowing. Something like, ‘Have you heard this?’ or ‘Have you seen this movie? What do you think about it?’
People often think that it’s not good to shift subjects too abruptly, but it’s absolutely normal to shift gears and take things in a new direction.
- Admit if you got distracted or you’re at a loss of words. In a situation when you cannot think of anything to talk about or you lost track of the conversation, be honest about it. Simply say, ‘I got lost thinking about something,’ or ‘My mind just blanked out. Where were we?’
- Find an activity to do together. If your conversation has stalled, but you want to continue being with that person, suggest an activity you can do together. If you are out for a coffee and you do not have much to talk about, you can suggest going bowling or simply taking a walk. As you engage in an activity, you’ll both have more to say.
- Practice your conversation skills. Make use of opportunities to practice your social skills by attending social events frequently. Plus, make small talk with every person you meet – your librarian, your neighborhood grocery storekeeper or your watchman. Force yourself to practice your conversation skills.
- Take it as an opportunity. If you were thinking of ending the conversation soon, the silence that incidentally fell into the conversation can present a great opportunity to wrap it up. Take charge and say something like, ‘Anyway, it was great meeting you. I will catch you later’ or ‘Anyway, you carry on with your work’.