Day 38 – Uncomfortable Silence: How to Survive

Day #37 continued…

The most difficult thing to understand during conversation is silence. 

– Henry David Thoreau

Four friends, one makes a joke, big laugh, then awkward silence.  Heart beats fast, palms sweat, legs fidgets.  This is not okay.  Friends shouldn’t have silence.  They must not be enjoying themselves.  They’re probably bored.  Do we have nothing in common anymore?  Think of something.  Say something!  “Fuzzy bananas!,” I scream in desperation.

Partially a true story…aside from the fuzzy bananas…I’ll have to remember that one.

The saying goes “Silence is golden.”  Sitting by a lake as the sun goes down…golden, babies asleep…golden, meditation in an empty church…golden, conversation silence…a black vortex of insecurity and panic.

On researching silence, the sheer number of articles and blogs on the subject indicates that conversation silence is not an anomaly for just yours truly, but a real hurdle for those who converse casually or even for a living.  While an uncomfortable pause in conversation feels like forever, it only takes 4 seconds to deem it an uncomfortable silence…4 seconds (varies from culture to culture, but apparently North Americans hate it the most…don’t get into a silence contest with Japan).

So why is this silence uncomfortable?

In a study entitled Disrupting the flow: How brief silences in group conversations affect social needsthe researchers state “fluent conversations are associated with feelings of belonging, self-esteem, and social validation. If a brief silence disrupts this fluency, negative emotions and feelings of rejection arise.”

Now, I feel better.

The way I see it I have essentially two choices…tools to navigate the social awkwardness or stop talking.  Anyone who knows me is aware that the latter is improbable.

Tools for Uncomfortable Silences

  • Lean into the discomfort and teach yourself to be okay with it – Kudos to you if you can do this, but for me, not going to happen.  I prefer the more apt, grit your teeth and wait it out.
  • Come prepared with a few conversation starters, even the lame “Read any good books lately?” can spur a conversation or apply the FORD method (family, occupation, recreation or dreams).
  • Limit the length of your visit.  Meet for coffee, not lunch.  Have an appointment planned after.
  • Combine your together time with an activity.  Walking and talking are really effective together.  When silence hits, you could bend over to tie your shoe…just make sure you wear shoes with laces though.


Hope this helps you effectively steer through your awkward silences – So, have any good dreams lately?

Tomorrow, I will be discussing my next personal conversational foible…gossip.


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