Awkward Silence: Make the Most of It or Get Rid of It
Silence is a source of great strength.
When you experience an unexpected silence, the amygdala(a region of the brain) starts to sound alarm bells.
Why does the brain overreact to silence? Researchers trace this reaction back to our hunter-gatherer roots. At that time, rejection from the community was incredibly dangerous for an individual. At a primal level, the uncertainty of silence feels like rejection, and the fear of rejection leads people to panic.
A simple compliment helps the conversation shift to a friendly, positive note. For example, if there is a long pause, you could say, “By the way, I love your earrings. Where did you get them?”
Always have a back pocket question that you can use in your conversations if an awkward silence creeps in.
"Yes/no" questions are more likely to lead to an awkward silence
Tell stories that allow the person you are chatting with to respond in a way that can naturally lead to another question
Example: What's your favourite campaign you've worked on?"
Let the person you're chatting with know why you're interested and invested in the questions you're asking.
Example: "I remember you mentioning that you work as a barista. What do you like about your job?"
By adding a personal connection, you show them why you are interested in their answer
On your way to the event, think of a few conversation starters to help you strike up a conversation with a new person and keep the conversation going
What did you think of X sports game? What kind of music do you like listening to? What were your thoughts on the presentation?
When someone talks with you, they likely want to learn something new about you. Steer clear of short answers and share some extra details that will help them get to know you better.
End with a question about them.
When the natural rhythm of the conversation starts to lull, graciously tell the person you're speaking with, "Thanks so much for chatting, I need to get going, but I enjoyed talking with you." This allows the conversation to end before either party feels the awkwardness that will inevitably happen
In a negotiation, keeping your chill in a business negotiation or team meeting allows others the time they need to think and formulate an answer.
It can also push the other person to feel uncomfortable and "cave" into your request.
If you've just posed a non-rhetorical question to a room (or zoom meeting) full of colleagues, let the silence settle for a moment. Your colleagues might be using that time to think about their answers or are nervous about speaking up first.
Try responding with, "In all honesty, my research on what other companies are paying for this equivalent position paired with my industry experience led me to expect the compensation to be a bit higher."
Then wait for a few seconds and see what happens.
If they don't respond, graciously ask if you can have a few days to consider.
By becoming more comfortable with silence, you’ll be able to consciously decide when to speak up and when to let the other person speak first. Your ability to handle silence can grow through practice. To cultivate comfortability with silence, spend time alone in nature, drive without turning on music, or meditate.
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Awkward silence is so stressful that people will say almost anything to get away from it—use that to your advantage! Or avoid it using these 6 tips.
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