The Lalatalking Between Classes

Embracing the Awkward Silence

We’ve all experienced it: That brief lull in a conversation where neither person knows what to say. But why do we find this silence so uncomfortable?

According to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, a moment of silence during a social exchange can produce feelings of rejection and anxiety (Koudenburg). So we desperately search for a new talking point—the latest celebrity gossip, the current political environment, funny stories from work—anything to kill the perceived tension. 

man and woman sitting on a bench

Yet it is important to consider, why do these silences occur in the first place? Surely, there are times when the person you’re talking to appears to be simply uninterested in continuing the conversation, giving short replies that make it difficult to keep the interaction going. In those instances, the silence that results should be taken as a sign to give the person some space. But what if the other person seems genuinely interested in conversing? Often times, it is a failure to properly engage that ultimately leads to awkward silence. We listen to the other person as they are talking but fail to allot ourselves enough time to thoughtfully interpret the information they present, immediately responding once the last word leaves their mouth. As a result, our own responses may lack enough substance for the other person to continue conversing about the particular topic.

So how can we ensure the conversation doesn’t fade out within a few seconds of starting it? The answer lies in embracing the so-called “awkward” silence as a tool throughout the conversation. Just as it is recommended to take a pause, reflect, and collect your thoughts before answering an interview question, applying the same concept in an informal social setting can allow for better flow. Only when we learn to embrace the silence can we begin to have longer, more meaningful conversations. 

I leave you with Rumi’s famous words: “The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear.”