The Complete Guide on How to Make Conversation And Avoid Awkward Silence
By David Morin and Viktor Sander
As you know from previous chapters, a great way to make conversation is to ask the other person genuine questions and share related bits and pieces from your own life.
One reason why conversations hits a wall is that they simply aren't interesting enough. We don't get emotionally affected and after some boring job talk we don't know what to say.
However, there's a simple solution to this:
Ask questions that the other person can connect to emotionally.
Here's what that means: People are emotionally connected to things that interest them, such as thinking about their future plans, or thinking back on their previous experiences, in some cases their occupations, and - not to be forgotten - themselves and their own lives.
Asking questions about something people aren't interested in is like biking uphill, whereas asking questions about something they can connect to emotionally just makes the conversation go on without effort.
Here are some things that people connect to emotionally and some related sample questions. These are questions you ask after some more general questions, like the ones I went through in chapter 1.If you ask these questions too early, people might feel uncomfortable. But to truly bond and move the conversation forward, you need to involve people emotionally as soon as you're warmed up.
These questions shouldn't be asked out of the blue. You should ask emotionally connected questions based on what you're currently talking about
- Did you get exhausted hiking so far or what did it feel like?
- Would you say that you are you a high performer?
- Did you have a specific diet plan to succeed so well with your weight loss?
- How was your vacation?
- What did you think about the movie?
- How did you like living in [city/country]?
- How do you usually spend your free time?
- What kind of music do you mainly listen to?
- What’s your favorite movie?
- Where would you rather live?
- What’s your plan for the summer?
- What are your future plans after [...]?
You shouldn't memorize these questions. In fact, you should only ask questions that relate to the situation. These are only examples so that you catch my drift. What you need to remember is that they ALL have something in common:
They all contain the word “you”.
To avoid awkward silence, ask questions that contain the word “you”. That's a good rule of thumb to find questions people connect emotionally to. That will make you more emotionally connected with each other and they will start contributing more to the conversation.
Obviously, your goal should be to make conversation both you and the person you're talking to enjoy. Chances are that as you ask questions, you come across something, perhaps a mutual interest or maybe similar future plans, that you'll both enjoy talking about.
A conversation goes silent when you can’t come up with things to say. Here's some advice for what to do when your mind goes blank:
Think back on previous subjects
This is an important one!
Memorize this technique and you'll see vast improvements in your conversations.
Let's say that the person you were talking to said something, and you have no idea of how to build the conversation on that. You've hit a wall. Now, ask yourself what you were talking about earlier in the conversation. Go back to any previous subject and ask questions that relate to that.
Say that the other person previously mentioned a trip to Paris, but the conversation since then has carried on:
- How was your weekend?
- Good. I didn’t do anything special though. (The conversation is about to hit a wall)
- I see. You said you visited Paris, right? How was it?
You can even relate back to discussions you had the last time you met:
- How was art class?
- Did you manage to get your apartment sold?
- How was your journey?
You probably notice when people don’t know what to say next. It get's awkward and weird.
But on the other hand, I guess that you almost never think "what a random statement that was" or "what a silly question he asked".
The truth is, it’s OK to ask silly questions. Questions don’t have to be clever. It’s much more awkward to not say anything than to ask something “silly”.
In the conversation below, pay attention to how simple and perhaps “silly” some of the questions are – and they work anyway. So, the next time you are about to censor yourself because you think that what you are going to say sounds too silly, try saying it anyway. See how it goes!
Make it a habit to get to know the other people’s thoughts and feelings on the subject you're currently talking about.
Research shows that people who are genuinely interested in others make friends more easily. This is probably because they get to know people better, and two people (obviously) need to know things about each other to get to know each other.
In the example below, pay attention to how I ask about the other person’s thoughts.
It’s easy for people to talk about what they are interested in.
You can almost always ask someone to expand on the subject. So when the conversation goes quiet, ask, “So, how does that work?” or “How did you…?” Notice how I ask the other person to expand on the subject on several occasions below.
Here are two phrases that are almost universal. If you don’t come up with anything else – fire these off.
1: -Where are you from?
This one is great to use at the beginning of a conversation.
2: -Have you heard / Did you hear that [Insert anything newsworthy]
These are so useful because you can use them no matter what you were just talking about, and you can refer to anything you’ve heard in the news, or anything newsworthy related to where you are.
-Did you hear that they will hire more people?
-Did you hear about the robbery here last week?
-Have you heard about the new owners?
Knowing what to say next will make you feel more relaxed in conversations as well. Click here to go to the main chapter on how to become more relaxed and self confident when you're talking to someone.
Lets say that you are new at the company or new in school.
At lunch, you end up next to a co-worker or classmate. For the sake of the example, let’s say the other person is really nervous and doesn’t say much at all – so you have to lead the conversation.
If you come across people who don't say much, it could obviously be because they don't want to talk. But most often, it just comes down to them being nervous.
Look at the context to find out. Are they occupied, do they look stressed and so on? If not, they are probably just glad that someone is acknowledging them.
In real life, you shouldn't be this calculating. The comments are here to illustrate the principles of conversation that we went through earlier.
In real life, it’s about practicing these principles in conversations over time so that after a while, you can use them without consciously thinking about them.
With many of the people you come across, you will be able to find some kind of mutual interest or experiences or opinions, as long as you ask the right questions.
Here I came across a mutual interest – the gaming. From that point on, the conversation continued without effort because we were talking about something that we both were passionate about.
-Where is he from?
-What’s his/her feelings/opinion on the subject?
-Can he/she explain this matter to me?
-What were we talking about previously that we can go back to?
-Has he/she heard about that interesting thing I heard?
I've now been talking a lot about techniques.
If we become a bit more philosophical for a moment, I would say that the best mindset to have to avoid awkward silence is to shift the focus from you, to the person with whom you are talking. Over time, cultivate an interest in others:
Who are they? - Where are they from? - Where are they going?
Get to know the person, and relate to him or her by sharing bits and pieces of your life.
Although this might sound abstract, if you manage to implement this philosophy, you won't have to focus as much on learning specific tricks and techniques.
Whenever you ask someone questions, throw in comments that reveal something about you or what you think. You don’t want the other person to feel that he or she reveals more than you do.
- Hi! How are you doing?
- How do you know people here?
- I know [this and that person].
- Ah. Where are you from?
- Ok, me too. I ended up in Williamsburg. How do you like Brooklyn?
As usual, this sample conversation partner isn’t that talkative.
In the last sentence, I revealed that I too live in Brooklyn. That little piece of information is enough to break off the “interview-vibe”.
Try reading the sample conversation again and skip the“Me too, I ended up in Williamsburg”-part. Notice how it changes the feeling of the entire conversation?
After all, awkward silence is caused by talking too little rather than too much so it’s better that you feel relaxed and make some mistakes, rather than trying to avoid mistakes so badly that you become self aware and awkward.
So – if you realize that you’ve been asking too many questions, no worries. Just break in with a statement or a story or reveal something about yourself. A good rule of thumb is that both of you should have spent roughly the same amount of time talking by the end of the conversation.
This mistake is probably obvious – but because I hear people giving this insane advice regularly: Don’t comment on an awkward silence!
Don’t use the word “awkward” when it feels awkward. It won’t make anyone feel any better.
Likewise, you don’t necessarily need to say funny things to break the awkward silence.
Instead, use any of the techniques above, such as asking whether they heard about something newsworthy, or go back to a previous subject.
A great way to end up in awkward silence is to drop a statement and then expect the other person to reply.
It can work with someone you know well - however, if you talk to someone you don't know well, make sure to finish off your sentences with a related question.
- …so that’s why we decided to move here. How long have you been here?
- …yeah that’s one of the best movies I’ve seen. What’s your favourite movie?
- … so you could say that I’m mainly a carpenter. What are you working with?
The key to having a great conversation is not taking it too seriously. The more relaxed you get, the better the conversation will flow. A glass of wine or a beer is proof of that.
See this guide as just a guide. If something slips out of your mouth that is the total opposite of what this guide says, it’s OK! Actually, it’s even better for a conversation if you don’t watch your tongue all the time.
However, if you notice that you repeatedly make a specific kind of mistake, this guide can be helpful in correcting that. So, follow this guide, but don’t be afraid to break it’s rules – and you'll be on your way to having a relaxed, flowing conversation that everyone will enjoy.
Don’t get overwhelmed by all the advice in this guide. There’s one, single principle that ties together most of what we have talked about here. And that is having a focus on the other person.
I recommend that you cultivate a curiosity in people you meet. Who are they, where do they come from and where are they going? Get to know the person, and relate to him or her by sharing related bits and pieces of your own life. Cultivate this interest, and the rest will follow.
Don’t try to learn everything at once. Select a few ideas and implement them in your conversations. When you are able to do them routinely, come back to this guide and take something new away with you.
Congratulations on following this guide so far!
It's time for the final chapter: Chapter 4: How to become relaxed and confident in any conversation.