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.
Person: “Did you see the game?”
You: “Nah I was busy because I had a soccer game last night.”
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.
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.
You: “So where are you from?”
Person: “Oh, East LA, what about yourself?”
You: “NorCal, but I’m down here for school.”
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!
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!
You: “Hey how are you doing?”
Person: “Good, what about you?”
You: “I’m good thanks”
You: “What’s up, are you having a good day?”
Person: “Yeah, I guess so”
You: “How come?”
Person: “I just got promoted at my job.”
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