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Bringing a Conversation Back to Life From an Awkward Silence

by Maura Banar, studioD

A conversation that flows is like a piece of music or a work of art that two or more individuals from completely different backgrounds can both create and enjoy together. At times however, conversation reaches an impasse in the form of an awkward silence, leaving participants uncomfortable. Awkward silence can be expected from time to time but the extent of the discomfort can be reduced if you are skilled in bringing the conversation back to life.

Make a joke. If you're in the midst of a conversation with someone you want to impress, using humor can actually improve their memory of your conversation. According to a research study published by Missouri Western University, humor had the most significant effect on the memory of individuals engaged in conversation. Even if you're not trying to make an impression, interjecting a joke or something humorous can break the awkward silence and provides additional information from which new conversations can develop.

Ask a question about something unrelated and neutral. Awkward silence often occurs because one or both of you feel uncomfortable with the direction of the conversation. Instead of risking additional discomfort, ask a simple neutral question, such as "What did you enjoy about the movie?" Remember to avoid closed-ended questions that elicit only a "yes" or "no," because the conversation will likely come to a standstill again. Neutral topics like the weather or the food you are sharing can change the direction towards topic that are more comfortable for all of you.

Point out the elephant in the room. Awkward silence indicates discomfort but in certain conversations, it's necessary to push forward rather than distract from the topic at hand. This is an especially important approach when you are attempting to elicit change or make a point clear. Use the brief period of awkward silence to reword your point but don't change the content of what you have to say so much that it has less impact. Remember that the awkward silence signifies that you already have had an impact that requires a follow-through.

Prepare for the possibility of awkward silence prior to having a conversation. Small talk is in the arsenal of nearly every effective conversationalist and it can help pull you out of an awkward silence with ease. According to Indiana University Southeast, effective small talk can be accomplished by expanding on the topics that have already been raised. If necessary, go back to something that had been mentioned previous to the silent impasse and expand it by asking open-ended questions. Interject your experiences as much as possible, to include all of you in the conversation.

About the Author

Maura Banar has been a professional writer since 2001 and is a psychotherapist. Her work has appeared in "Imagination, Cognition and Personality" and "Dreaming: The Journal of the International Association for the Study of Dreams." Banar received her Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Buffalo State College and her Master of Arts in mental health counseling from Medaille College.

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