Avoiding Awkward Silences

Let’s talk about how to avoid the dreaded awkward silence that usually rears its ugly head at the end of a conversation topic.

You’ve either said everything you have to say on the subject, or you just don’t want to dig further into it, or you get the feeling that the other person doesn’t want to dig further… so you’re stuck.

Don’t Keep Asking Questions Just To Fill The Silence

What we tend to do in these situations is ask a question. Usually a forced and uninteresting question that leads to another awkward silence.

We ask a question because we want to make the other person talk, so we can get the attention away from ourselves. So that we can get new ideas from the things they talk about.

But here’s the problem with that.

Pete from Beard Strokings AvatarIn an awkward silence, THEY also want YOU to talk. They want to get ideas from you.

So if YOU can find a way to fill the silence for long enough to break the awkward train, you become the hero.

But where can you find that idea for a new conversation topic?

What To Say To Keep The Silence From Getting Awkward

One way to do it is to just start telling them about something that happened that day, or something you did. Whatever it might be. Just start talking about it without knowing where your story is going.

For Example:
“I bought some clothes today. A coat, a sweater and some shorts.”

Not too interesting on its own, but now that I’ve said it, I’ve committed to the topic, and immediately a few things jumped to mind:

  1. 1.

    I got a sweet deal on the coat and the sweater because it’s almost Summer here in Australia. But I need Winter stuff because I’m moving to Vancouver.

  2. 2.

    The people in this particular shop reaaaally wanted to help me find something. I must’ve been asked if I wanted help by five different shop assistants. Some of them two or three times each.

  3. 3.

    I asked one of the shop assistants where she got all her energy from, because she was really intense, and she told me that she’s only like this at work, and that as soon as she goes home to her partner she just crashes.

Notice how none of these are really complete stories? They don’t really have a point.

And that’s the point.

You Don’t Have To Know Exactly Where You Are Taking The Conversation

In an awkward silence, you can’t think of anything to say because you think you have to come up with something that has a point.

But the idea here is not to make a complete point… it’s to throw down a few bits of tinder (like firewood, not like the dating app) for the other person to light.

So just reflect back on your day out loud, and end your sentences without a point.

Now it might feel completely unnatural doing this, because you’re probably used to having a point when you say something.

But people actually do this all the time. Think about it. They do… don’t they?

And it’s not weird at all. You don’t even notice it. And it won’t be weird when you do it either.

So the lesson is this:

If you find yourself in an awkward silence, try stopping yourself from asking a question that might make it more awkward. Reflect back on your day instead, without knowing where your story is going.

The other person will pick up an idea from one of your incomplete thoughts and they’ll take the conversation in a new direction.

And of course you don’t have to talk about your day. That’s just an easy one to come up with. You can talk about any half-formed idea that comes to mind.

Just try it once and see what happens. It feels like magic when it works for the first time.

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Pete, thank you for this wonderful guide! I have friends from a different country than where I live and I might see them every two years. Conversation can be awkward for me dealing with a different culture and the lapse of time between our meetings. I’m excited to follow your tips in this article so to enjoy our conversations better! Again, thanks.