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How To Never Have an Awkward Silence Again

How To Never Have an Awkward Silence Again

It’s senior year of college.

The bar in East Los Angeles is packed with classmates reminiscing about what jobs people have lined up. Most people are standing around, chatting and drinking beer.

Across the room I see a beautiful girl that I’ve always been dying to meet.

A friend introduces me. We talk. We laugh. My friend slides away leaving the two of us to get to know each other better.

After the first five minutes, we run out of things to talk about. After about seven minutes, she gets up, says “Nice to meet you”, and leaves. Just like that.

Awkward silences distance you from the person you are talking to and kill conversations. They are in-your-face reminders showing you how much you don’t have in common with the other person. Luckily, they don’t have to happen.

Here are a few ways to never have an awkward silence again.

1. Don’t Censor Yourself

 People limit themselves when they talk. Too often we are afraid to say the wrong thing or something disagreeable, and we either don’t share what’s on our mind, or we only partially do. Share what you care about! Don’t assume people will be bored or upset with you.

Bad Example

Person: “Did you see the game?”

 You: “Nah I was busy because I had a soccer game last night.”

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 Better Example

Person: “Did you see the game?”

 You: “No, I actually don’t like watching sports and think that playing them is so much more fun. I had my own soccer game last night, which is where I personally get my competitive side out.”

Action Step #1: Treat your next conversation like a Rorschach blot opportunity to share something about yourself. Say the first thing that comes to your mind – bonus points for trying to be vulnerable.

Quick Examples:

Mexico – Talk about Mexican food.

Movies – Talk about the last panda documentary you saw.

Music – Talk about the awesome jazz concert you went to.

Don’t be afraid of saying the wrong thing! Everything is fair game.

2. Don’t Ask Boring Questions

 Where are you from? What do you do? What is your job like? I’m sick of it already. People are horrible when it comes to asking questions. They don’t realize they are acting like robots, and even if they want to connect with someone more, they don’t know what to say! Lucky for you, you know better.

Asking questions should break people out of robot-mode.

People are so used to hearing about other peoples’ banal details and resume that they tune out, or worse, respond in monotone boredom when asked all the same questions. The trick then is to ask the right ones at the right time. Now what are the right questions? Any question that allows that person’s individuality to shine through! These are questions that are fun, different, and usually a surprise to the person.

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Bad Example

You: “So where are you from?”

 Person: “Oh, East LA, what about yourself?”

 You: “NorCal, but I’m down here for school.”

 Person: “Cool.”

 Better Example

You: “Nice to meet you. I can’t believe I’m not the only person here this house was so hard to find.”

 Person: “Haha I know I got a little lost myself.”

 You: “You must be from around here if you got here this easily, though. Are you from LA?”

 Person: “Yeah, East LA! What about you?”

 Action Step #2: The next time you meet someone new, don’t ask him or her “Where are you from?” or “What do you do?” See how long you can go without reverting back to these basic questions. Instead, try to make a comment about the setting, event, etc. and ask a question that they can answer “Yes” or “No” to. “Are you having a good day?” is way more effective than “How are you?” because you can ask “How come?” or “Why?” afterwards and make a deeper connection!

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3. Be Quiet Sometimes 

 Now, this might seem counterintuitive. You might think that by trying to avoid awkward silences, we’re trying to avoid silence all together. And you’d be dead wrong.

Think about the last time that you were hanging out with a best friend, someone you’re really close with.  Were you talking the whole time? Odds are you weren’t. In fact, we’re most comfortable with our good friends that we feel we can be silent when they’re around. In fact, being able to be silent without worrying about what to say is part of what allows our relationship with that person to be what it is.

Being silent (and calm!) with people that you meet for the first time is scary. We feel that we need to continuously ask questions or talk about ourselves nonstop. But try it. Be present and in the conversation, be calm, maybe maintain a little eye contact to let the person know you aren’t drifting off. Usually the other person will continue talking or will appreciate the silence and even feel like an old friend!

Bad Example

You: “Hey how are you doing?”

 Person: “Good, what about you?”

 You: “I’m good thanks”

 *crickets*

 Better Example

You: “What’s up, are you having a good day?”

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Person: “Yeah, I guess so” 

You: “How come?”

 Person: “I just got promoted at my job.”

 You: *silence*

 Person: “It’s actually at a car dealership and I actually don’t know if I want to stay there long term.”

 Usually, strategic silences (usually if the person, in your opinion, hasn’t shared all they could have) open people up. They will keep talking, revealing more things about themselves that you can connect on.

 Action Step #3: In your next conversation, and as nonjudgmentally as possible, take a conversational pause after the person finishes telling you something. This is not to say zone out. But give the other person the chance to share more and elaborate on whatever they just told you. Chances are it will make the other person feel comfortable with you too.

What has or hasn’t worked for you when it comes to defeating awkward silences?

Featured photo credit: Picjumbo.com via picjumbo.com

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Last Updated on December 4, 2020

How to Give Constructive Feedback in the Workplace

How to Give Constructive Feedback in the Workplace

We all crave constructive feedback. We want to know not just what we’re doing well but also what we could be doing better.

However, giving and getting constructive feedback isn’t just some feel-good exercise. In the workplace, it’s part and parcel of how companies grow.

Let’s take a closer look.

Why Constructive Feedback Is Critical

A culture of feedback benefits individuals on a team and the team itself. Constructive feedback has the following effects:

Builds Workers’ Skills

Think about the last time you made a mistake. Did you come away from it feeling attacked—a key marker of destructive feedback—or did you feel like you learned something new?

Every time a team member learns something, they become more valuable to the business. The range of tasks they can tackle increases. Over time, they make fewer mistakes, require less supervision, and become more willing to ask for help.

Boosts Employee Loyalty

Constructive feedback is a two-way street. Employees want to receive it, but they also want the feedback they give to be taken seriously.

If employees see their constructive feedback ignored, they may take it to mean they aren’t a valued part of the team. Nine in ten employees say they’d be more likely to stick with a company that takes and acts on their feedback.[1]

Strengthens Team Bonds

Without trust, teams cannot function. Constructive feedback builds trust because it shows that the giver of the feedback cares about the success of the recipient.

However, for constructive feedback to work its magic, both sides have to assume good intentions. Those giving the feedback must genuinely want to help, and those getting it has to assume that the goal is to build them up rather than to tear them down.

Promotes Mentorship

There’s nothing wrong with a single round of constructive feedback. But when it really makes a difference is when it’s repeated—continuous, constructive feedback is the bread and butter of mentorship.

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Be the change you want to see on your team. Give constructive feedback often and authentically, and others will naturally start to see you as a mentor.

Clearly, constructive feedback is something most teams could use more of. But how do you actually give it?

How to Give Constructive Feedback

Giving constructive feedback is tricky. Get it wrong, and your message might fall on deaf ears. Get it really wrong, and you could sow distrust or create tension across the entire team.

Here are ways to give constructive feedback properly:

1. Listen First

Often, what you perceive as a mistake is a decision someone made for a good reason. Listening is the key to effective communication.

Seek to understand: how did the other person arrive at her choice or action?

You could say:

  • “Help me understand your thought process.”
  • “What led you to take that step?”
  • “What’s your perspective?”

2. Lead With a Compliment

In school, you might have heard it called the “sandwich method”: Before (and ideally, after) giving difficult feedback, share a compliment. That signals to the recipient that you value their work.

You could say:

  • “Great design. Can we see it with a different font?”
  • “Good thinking. What if we tried this?”

3. Address the Wider Team

Sometimes, constructive feedback is best given indirectly. If your comment could benefit others on the team, or if the person whom you’re really speaking to might take it the wrong way, try communicating your feedback in a group setting.

You could say:

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  • “Let’s think through this together.”
  • “I want everyone to see . . .”

4. Ask How You Can Help

When you’re on a team, you’re all in it together. When a mistake happens, you have to realize that everyone—not just the person who made it—has a role in fixing it. Give constructive feedback in a way that recognizes this dynamic.

You could say:

  • “What can I do to support you?”
  • “How can I make your life easier?
  • “Is there something I could do better?”

5. Give Examples

To be useful, constructive feedback needs to be concrete. Illustrate your advice by pointing to an ideal.

What should the end result look like? Who has the process down pat?

You could say:

  • “I wanted to show you . . .”
  • “This is what I’d like yours to look like.”
  • “This is a perfect example.”
  • “My ideal is . . .”

6. Be Empathetic

Even when there’s trust in a team, mistakes can be embarrassing. Lessons can be hard to swallow. Constructive feedback is more likely to be taken to heart when it’s accompanied by empathy.

You could say:

  • “I know it’s hard to hear.”
  • “I understand.”
  • “I’m sorry.”

7. Smile

Management consultancies like Credera teach that communication is a combination of the content, delivery, and presentation.[2] When giving constructive feedback, make sure your body language is as positive as your message. Your smile is one of your best tools for getting constructive feedback to connect.

8. Be Grateful

When you’re frustrated about a mistake, it can be tough to see the silver lining. But you don’t have to look that hard. Every constructive feedback session is a chance for the team to get better and grow closer.

You could say:

  • “I’m glad you brought this up.”
  • “We all learned an important lesson.”
  • “I love improving as a team.”

9. Avoid Accusations

Giving tough feedback without losing your cool is one of the toughest parts of working with others. Great leaders and project managers get upset at the mistake, not the person who made it.[3]

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You could say:

  • “We all make mistakes.”
  • “I know you did your best.”
  • “I don’t hold it against you.”

10. Take Responsibility

More often than not, mistakes are made because of miscommunications Recognize your own role in them.

Could you have been clearer in your directions? Did you set the other person up for success?

You could say:

  • “I should have . . .”
  • “Next time, I’ll . . .”

11. Time it Right

Constructive feedback shouldn’t catch people off guard. Don’t give it while everyone is packing up to leave work. Don’t interrupt a good lunch conversation.

If in doubt, ask the person to whom you’re giving feedback to schedule the session themselves. Encourage them to choose a time when they’ll be able to focus on the conversation rather than their next task.

12. Use Their Name

When you hear your name, your ears naturally perk up. Use that when giving constructive feedback. Just remember that constructive feedback should be personalized, not personal.

You could say:

  • “Bob, I wanted to chat through . . .”
  • “Does that make sense, Jesse?”

13. Suggest, Don’t Order

When you give constructive feedback, it’s important not to be adversarial. The very act of giving feedback recognizes that the person who made the mistake had a choice—and when the situation comes up again, they’ll be able to choose differently.

You could say:

  • “Next time, I suggest . . .”
  • “Try it this way.”
  • “Are you on board with that?”

14. Be Brief

Even when given empathetically, constructive feedback can be uncomfortable to receive. Get your message across, make sure there are no hard feelings, and move on.

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One exception? If the feedback isn’t understood, make clear that you have plenty of time for questions. Rushing through what’s clearly an open conversation is disrespectful and discouraging.

15. Follow Up

Not all lessons are learned immediately. After giving a member of your team constructive feedback, follow it up with an email. Make sure you’re just as respectful and helpful in your written feedback as you are on your verbal communication.

You could say:

  • “I wanted to recap . . .”
  • “Thanks for chatting with me about . . .”
  • “Did that make sense?”

16. Expect Improvement

Although you should always deliver constructive feedback in a supportive manner, you should also expect to see it implemented. If it’s a long-term issue, set milestones.

By what date would you like to see what sort of improvement? How will you measure that improvement?

You could say:

  • “I’d like to see you . . .”
  • “Let’s check back in after . . .”
  • “I’m expecting you to . . .”
  • “Let’s make a dent in that by . . .”

17. Give Second Chances

Giving feedback, no matter how constructive, is a waste of time if you don’t provide an opportunity to implement it. Don’t set up a “gotcha” moment, but do tap the recipient of your feedback next time a similar task comes up.

You could say:

  • “I know you’ll rock it next time.”
  • “I’d love to see you try again.”
  • “Let’s give it another go.”

Final Thoughts

Constructive feedback is not an easy nut to crack. If you don’t give it well, then maybe it’s time to get some. Never be afraid to ask.

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Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

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