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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 March 14, 2019

7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

Recruiters might hold thousands of interviews in their careers and a lot of them are reporting the same thing—that most candidates play it safe with the questions they ask, or have no questions to ask in a job interview at all.

For job applicants, this approach is crazy! This is a job that you’re going to dedicate a lot of hours to and that might have a huge impact on your future career. Don’t throw away the chance to figure out if the position is perfect for you.

Here are 7 killer questions to ask in a job interview that will both impress your counterpart and give you some really useful insights into whether this job will be a dream … or a nightmare.

1. What are some challenges I might come up against this role?

A lesser candidate might ask, “what does a typical day look like in this role?” While this is a perfectly reasonable question to ask in an interview, focusing on potential challenges takes you much further because it indicates that you already are visualizing yourself in the role.

It’s impressive because it shows that you are not afraid of challenges, and you are prepared to strategize a game plan upfront to make sure you succeed if you get the job.

It can also open up a conversation about how you’ve solved problems in the past which can be a reassuring exercise for both you and the hiring manager.

How it helps you:

If you ask the interviewer to describe a typical day, you may get a vibrant picture of all the lovely things you’ll get to do in this job and all the lovely people you’ll get to do them with.

Asking about potential roadblocks means you hear the other side of the story—dysfunctional teams, internal politics, difficult clients, bootstrap budgets and so on. This can help you decide if you’re up for the challenge or whether, for the sake of your sanity, you should respectfully decline the job offer.

2. What are the qualities of really successful people in this role?

Employers don’t want to hire someone who goes through the motions; they want to hire someone who will excel.

Asking this question shows that you care about success, too. How could they not hire you with a dragon-slayer attitude like that?

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How it helps you:

Interviewers hire people who are great people to work with, but the definition of “great people” differs from person to person.

Does this company hire and promote people with a specific attitude, approach, worth ethic or communication style? Are the most successful people in this role strong extroverts who love to talk and socialize when you are studious and reserved? Does the company reward those who work insane hours when you’re happiest in a more relaxed environment?

If so, then this may not be the right match for you.

Whatever the answer is, you can decide whether you have what it takes for the manager to be happy with your performance in this role. And if the interviewer has no idea what success looks like for this position, this is a sign to proceed with extreme caution.

3. From the research I did on your company, I noticed the culture really supports XYZ. Can you tell me more about that element of the culture and how it impacts this job role?

Of course, you could just ask “what is the culture like here? ” but then you would miss a great opportunity to show that you’ve done your research!

Interviewers give BIG bonus point to those who read up and pay attention, and you’ve just pointed out that (a) you’re diligent in your research (b) you care about the company culture and (c) you’re committed to finding a great cultural fit.

How it helps you:

This question is so useful because it lets you pick an element of the culture that you really care about and that will have the most impact on whether you are happy with the organization.

For example, if training and development is important to you, then you need to know what’s on offer so you don’t end up in a dead-end job with no learning opportunities.

Companies often talk a good talk, and their press releases may be full of shiny CSR initiatives and all the headline-grabbing diversity programs they’re putting in place. This is your opportunity to look under the hood and see if the company lives its values on the ground.

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A company that says it is committed to doing the right thing by customers should not judge success by the number of up-sells an employee makes, for instance. Look for consistency, so you aren’t in for a culture shock after you start.

4. What is the promotion path for this role, and how would my performance on that path be measured?

To be clear, you are not asking when you will get promoted. Don’t go there—it’s presumptuous, and it indicates that you think you are better than the role you have applied for.

A career-minded candidate, on the other hand, usually has a plan that she’s working towards. This question shows you have a great drive toward growth and advancement and an intention to stick with the company beyond your current state.

How it helps you:

One word: hierarchy.

All organizations have levels of work and authority—executives, upper managers, line managers, the workforce, and so on. Understanding the hierarchical structure gives you power, because you can decide if you can work within it and are capable of climbing through its ranks, or whether it will be endlessly frustrating to you.

In a traditional pyramid hierarchy, for example, the people at the bottom tend to have very little autonomy to make decisions. This gets better as you rise up through the pyramid, but even middle managers have little power to create policy; they are more concerned with enforcing the rules the top leaders make.

If having a high degree of autonomy and accountability is important to you, you may do better in a flat hierarchy where work teams can design their own way of achieving the corporate goals.

5. What’s the most important thing the successful candidate could accomplish in their first 3 months/6 months/year?

Of all the questions to ask in a job interview, this one is impressive because it shows that you identify with and want to be a successful performer, and not just an average one.

Here, you’re drilling down into what the company needs, and needs quite urgently, proving that you’re all about adding value to the organization and not just about what’s in it for you.

How it helps you:

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Most job descriptions come with 8, 10 or 12 different job responsibilities and a lot of them with be boilerplate or responsibilities that someone in HR thinks are associated with this role. This question gives you a better sense of which responsibilities are the most important—and they may not be what initially attracted you to the role.

If you like the idea of training juniors, for example, but success is judged purely on your sales figures, then is this really the job you thought you were applying for?

This question will also give you an idea of what kind of learning curve you’re expected to have and whether you’ll get any ramp-up time before getting down to business. If you’re the type of person who likes to jump right in and get things done, for instance, you may not be thrilled to hear that you’re going to spend the first three months shadowing a peer.

6. What do you like about working here?

This simple question is all about building rapport with the interviewer. People like to talk about themselves, and the interviewer will be flattered that you’re interested in her opinions.

Hopefully, you’ll find some great connection points that the two of you share. What similar things drive you head into the office each day? How will you fit into the culture?

How it helps you:

You can learn a lot from this question. Someone who genuinely enjoys his job will be able to list several things they like, and their answers will sound passionate and sincere. If not….well, you might consider that a red flag.

Since you potentially can learn a lot about the company culture from this question, it’s a good idea to figure out upfront what’s important to you. Maybe you’re looking for a hands-off boss who values independent thought and creativity? Maybe you work better in environments that move at a rapid, exciting pace?

Whatever’s important to you, listen carefully and see if you can find any common ground.

7. Based on this interview, do you have any questions or concerns about my qualifications for the role?

What a great closing question to ask in a job interview! It shows that you’re not afraid of feedback—in fact, you are inviting it. Not being able to take criticism is a red flag for employers, who need to know that you’ll act on any “coaching moments” with a good heart.

As a bonus, asking this question shows that you are really interested in the position and wish to clear up anything that may be holding the company back from hiring you.

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How it helps you:

What a devious beast this question is! On the surface, it looks straightforward, but it’s actually giving you four key pieces of information.

First, is the manager capable of giving you feedback when put on the spot like this? Some managers are scared of giving feedback, or don’t think it’s important enough to bother outside of a formal performance appraisal. Do you want to work for a boss like that? How will you improve if no one is telling you what you did wrong?

Second, can the manager give feedback in a constructive way without being too pillowy or too confrontational? It’s unfair to expect the interviewer to have figured out your preferred way of receiving feedback in the space of an interview, but if she come back with a machine-gun fire of shortcomings or one of those corporate feedback “sandwiches” (the doozy slipped between two slices of compliment), then you need to ask yourself, can you work with someone who gives feedback like that?

Third, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about before you leave the interview. This gives you the chance to make a final, tailored sales pitch so you can convince the interviewer that she should not be worried about those things.

Fourth, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about period. If turnover is keeping him up at night, then your frequent job hopping might get a lot of additional scrutiny. If he’s facing some issues with conflict or communication, then he might raise concerns regarding your performance in this area.

Listen carefully: the concerns that are being raised about you might actually be a proxy for problems in the wider organization.

Making Your Interview Work for You

Interviews are a two-way street. While it is important to differentiate yourself from every other candidate, understand that convincing the interviewer you’re the right person for the role goes hand-in-hand with figuring out if the job is the right fit for you.

Would you feel happy in a work environment where the people, priorities, culture and management style were completely at odds with the way you work? Didn’t think so!

More Resources About Job Interviews

Featured photo credit: Amy Hirschi via unsplash.com

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