How to Avoid Awkward Silences

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Alex: “The last movie I saw was Inception.”

You: “Oh, I saw that movie! I liked it.”

Alex: “Yeah, it was a good movie.”

You: “Yeah, aha…”

And then, S-I-L-E-N-C-E. So much silence that if feels awkward. You can hear your heart beating, you can hear the clock on the wall ticking, and you can’t tell which is which anymore.

It sometimes happens, even for persons with good people skills, to have a conversation that gets stuck at certain points, no one is speaking and it doesn’t feel right. Knowing how to avoid awkward silences is a people skill that can save the day in such a case.

I treasure a conversation with a good flow. Over the years, both me and many of my social confidence coaching clients have tested various tools and techniques to keep conversations going and to avoid those silences that feel weird.

There is also a huuuge attitude component to avoiding awkward silences. The fact of the matter is that people who are confident and feel at ease in social settings naturally find ways to get over silences and create flow.

So before anything else, I advise you to watch my free social confidence presentation. In it I will teach you my proven formula for becoming a charismatic and confident conversationalist. Go here to access it. I promise it will inspire you.

There are three ways to avoid awkward silences in a conversation that are on the top of my mind. Here they are:

1. Think Less, Talk More

There is always something to say in a conversation, a way to continue it. The fact that people who can keep talking for hours nonstop exist is living proof of that. Awkward silences appear in conversation many times because we don’t give ourselves permission to talk.

We are overanalyzing, looking for the perfect thing to say, for the proper line to continue with. When we can’t come up with one, we shut up and just sit there. That’s what creates most awkward silences.

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Learn to stop looking for the perfect conversation and to just say whatever comes to your mind. If you feel like talking about the delicious pie you had for breakfast, do that. You’ll discover that it’s actually fine to let go and talk about whatever you feel like.

2. Get Excited and Curious

It’s hard to have awkward silences in a conversation when you’re a really curious person, excited to discover the other person and willing to ask them a lot of questions.

The point is not to turn a conversation into an interrogatory. However, getting curious and asking questions based on this is, in my practice, one of the best ways to have a good flow in a conversation.

The other person may not be so eager to talk about some subjects. Don’t interpret this as a negative reflection upon you. Continue being curious and trust me, you will discover the subjects the other person is eager to talk about.

3. Keep the Silence, Remove the Awkward

I used to think that in a social interaction, one person must always be talking. That assumption got totally trashed when I started really observing other people interacting and noticing some people sitting at a table together, having a coffee in silence and totally enjoying the interaction.

A social interaction is much more than words. An exchange between people can happen simply by having eye contact or being present together, in the same moment.

Instead of trying to gap every silence, every once in a while to let it be instead and enjoy it. Make silences a natural part of a certain type of conversations. As you’ll get better at this, I can tell you from experience that you’ll really learn to appreciate silences in social interactions.

Always bear in mind to work on your attitude as well. Techniques can only get you so far. I have a practical guide for you concerning this, which you can find here.

The people skill of making conversation is part science, part art. How to avoid awkward silences is something that can be taught as theory up to a certain point, but it depends even more on practicing the theory and on gradually becoming more comfortable interacting with more types of people.

I wish you a lot of fun with your practice. Now, get out there and be social!

Image courtesy of Brandon Christopher Warren

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Comments

  1. Spot on! I too have noticed that when I am more curious it makes my interactions a lot easier and spontaneous. As you say, we don’t need to be perfect, we just need to be engaged. People make slip-ups all the time when they speak and it’s no big deal.

    I also completely agree that silence can sometimes be healthy and enjoyable. Especially late at night with a girl you like, while cuddling or staring at the stars. In those situations, 30-40 min of silence can be incredibly peaceful and intimate.

  2. Another thing is to stop asking questions, and make statements.

    Instead of saying ‘Don’t you think this bar is crap?’, which can be responded with ‘yes’ or just a smile, say ‘Damn, I REALLY hate this bar’. This will increase the curiosity of the other person, and they’ll want to know more, and will ask you why, which opens up for another angle of conversation.

    • I like statements because they are bold. I think they can work far better than questions if you know how to use them in a powerful way, encouraging the other person to get involved in the conversation.

  3. > Think Less, Talk More
    I like it — it’s less about going for the home run, and more about getting up to bat.

  4. Wow….such an awesome article. I’m an extremely analytical introvert who can’t stand awkward moments of silence. I’ll find myself lost in thoughts about the next best thing to say, what the other person is thinking, etc.

    I feel like I should/must say something, even if I don’t want to. Obsessing over a conversation, or lack of conversation, is such a waste of life’s precious moments.

    I think I’ll take your suggestion & just learn to enjoy the silence. That’s what I really want to do anyway. So, if the curiosity isn’t there to fill me with questions & comments, maybe I’ll just relax.

    • Hey Nea,

      I know the feeling. I used to feel uncomfortable with silences in conversations, especially with people I’ve just met. I can tell you from my own experience that you can change that.

  5. Eduard, you so beat me to the punch on this one, I’ve been meaning to write a post about this for ages but can I just say what a superb article, again you can definitely add this to one of your best me thinks!

    I’ve not got much to add to this except that you definitely captured what is true about his subject, when you spend time over-analysing those moments of silence you miss about a zillion other opportunities, whether that’s to appreciate the quiet moments or just explore and chat breeze on whatever is going on in your mind in that moment!

    You Star!!

  6. Good article! Awkward silences can be avoided and become more scarce when you make yourself available to communication in body language, too: when you look your interlocutor in the eyes, when you use postures that suggest openness (palms out, smile), let your conversation partner know that you are listening, a small touch during conversation on the forearm or on the back of the hand can also really warm things up. Silences can be used to communicate attitude. If you immediately let your eyes wander off the face of your interlocutor – awkwardness will set in for sure, as you will suggest disinterest and boredom. Let your eyes do the talking – it is not for nothing that they say that the eyes are windows looking on one’s soul – share your attitude. Turn your eyes slowly towards the hands of your interlocutor, then after a few seconds look at him/her again smiling faintly, as to suggest you’re listening.

  7. :) I agree. Kinda “fell” on your blog while at work and I wrote my comment in between doing other things. When multitasking some things do get ommitted, according to priorities.

    I gotta say, this blog has definitely made my Favorites list!

    And… may Santa bring you what you wished for!

  8. The anthropologist Gregory Bateson once said that the best cure for nervousness during public speaking was to call attention to it with your audience next time you’re at the podium.
    I sometimes use the same strategy for the awkward silence by speaking in the stentorian voice tone of the All Important Narrator with

    “An awkward silence descended upon the hapless couple, completely ruining their encounter.”

    Or sometimes I use the more informal approach:

    “Uh-oh. Here comes one of those ‘awkward silences’ I’ve heard so much about. What should we do now?”

    These “work” for me and they’re easy to use because they’re more my style.

  9. Wow I loved this article. Meeting someone is fun until I start overthinking and trying to think of the perfect thing to say, then the silence hits me like a brick wall – and I suddenly find myself trying to think of a way to end the conversation asap.

  10. Here’s a good first question:

    “What’s your favorite dinosaur?”

    If he or she doesn’t know, tell them why your favorite is the best one. If you don’t have a favorite one, then get out there and find a favorite one.

    If she gives you an answer, be fascinated and go from there.

  11. OMGosh my Bf and i had been having so many awkward silences its like 5 over the phone and he only calls not txt i feel like “nothing to talk about ? “

  12. Another way to break the silence is sayin “And now a moment of silence for the people who suffer from awkward silence!”

  13. I was surprised to learn how well these methods worked. Thanks for posting this, Eduard!

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