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There's something that makes a lot of people uncomfortable.
But it's something that's actually really effective in relationships.
When used properly, this technique can improve your relationships while also increasing your mental health.
The technique is simple, but most people feel very uncomfortable using it.
Let's dig into why people find silence so uncomfortable and how you can use this powerful tool to your advantage.
Awkward Silence: Gaps in Conversations Are Awkward! Or Not?
What happens when you're talking with someone you just met?
You probably fill up all the time talking back and forth, making sure there are no gaps in conversation.
Silence feels incredibly awkward, so you do whatever you can to avoid it.
Now think about someone you've known for a long time. It's probably common for the two of you to spend a lot of time together while not saying anything at all. Silence is just part of the relationship, and it's not uncomfortable.
Why is that?
As these examples show, silence in and of itself isn't awkward. The meaning of awkwardness may not be what you think.
So what's going on here?
Why is Being Silent So Important?
Being silent. Taking pauses. Letting some air into the conversation. Whatever you want to call it, silence can be a huge asset if used properly.
Silence builds trust. It demonstrates to another person that you respect them enough to hear what they have to say. A lot of people think that the point of a conversation is to fill up the space with as many words as possible.
Isn't that how people communicate?
Yes and no.
The true goal of a good conversation is to have a meaningful exchange of ideas.
And that's just not possible if one person is holding onto what they are going to say next to use their perfect words right after the other person stops talking. But that's not conversation. That's a preemptive strike.
Silence allows ideas to sift through the air and eventually settle and intermingle with other thoughts. It's like a pot of soup or chili. The food needs time to settle so the flavors can congeal and become stronger over time. People don't consider it awkward when you have to wait for high-quality food, so why is it so awkward to wait for high-quality conversation?
How to Use Awkwardness / Pauses In Conversations
It's awkward because we're humans.
We're always judging ourselves and our social standing. We evolved to be hyper-aware of our position in relation to others. Thousands of years ago, if you let yourself slip in the eyes of others, you could be out of the tribe. And that, potentially, could mean you're on your own and your odds of survival plummet.
But we don't live in that world anymore. Now, silence is golden. Awkwardness can be an advantage.
Here's a great illustration from the amazing Jono Hey over at Skeptchplanations that illustrates the point I'm making:
Here's how to take advantage of this powerful awkward silence technique in your life:
1. Use the 90% rule
I've written about this before. Talk for 10% of the time. Listen 90% of the time. You'll be amazed by what you learn about other people. This is especially powerful when talking with children / youth.
2. Don't plan what you're going to say next
This sounds very strange to some people. But isn't that the entire point of a conversation? No, not necessarily. Conversations should be organic. If you're always planning what to say next, you're going to miss out on key information that could change your perspective. You'll miss out on opportunities to respond in new ways.
3. Have a conversation about silence
This move is torturous for some. But what if you actually acknowledged your feelings about the silence? Would the world end?
Absolutely not. What will most likely happen is that you'll make it safe to discuss what's bothering your conversation partner as well. Any feeling you have in a conversation is most likely shared, in some shape or form, by the person you're talking to. Acknowledging what's in front of you decreases tension and builds trust.
So there you have it--3 powerful methods for using awkward silence in your life.
Silence doesn't have to be awkward.
And once you realize that, you realize that this extremely powerful technique has been hiding in plain sight all along.