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The Complete Guide on How to Make Conversation And Avoid Awkward Silence

By David Morin and Viktor Sander

The Complete Guide on How to Make Conversation


CHAPTER 3:

How to Avoid Awkward Silence

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WHAT YOU'LL LEARN IN THIS CHAPTER:

  • How to always know what to say next in a conversation.
  • How to fill awkward silence.
  • Specific examples of what to say when a conversation runs dry.
  • A dangerous mistake people often make that causes awkward silence.
  • What you should say when your mind goes blank.
  • What you should do after you’ve read this guide to not feel overwhelmed - but to actually improve your conversations.

How to make conversation in a way that prevents awkward silence

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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.

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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

Themselves

- 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?

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Experiences

- How was your vacation?
- What did you think about the movie?
- How did you like living in [city/country]?

Interests

- How do you usually spend your free time?
- What kind of music do you mainly listen to?
- What’s your favorite movie?

Hopes and dreams (after you’ve gotten to know each other a bit more)

- 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.

3 things most people don't know about bonding and making friends

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There are 3 specific things when it comes to making close friends that surprisingly few people know about.

Free training: Conversation Advice for Over-thinkers

You'll learn:

  • What to say next in any conversation
  • Two proven self confidence quick-fixes
  • How to avoid awkward silence forever
  • Secrets of "socially successful" people
  • Why you don't have to "go out of comfort zone"
  • How to turn the video into real results


HOW TO COME UP WITH THINGS TO SAY WHEN YOUR MIND GOES BLANK

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.

guides paris

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?

Click here to go to the specific chapter on how to get an interesting conversation going.

Why questions don't have to be "clever"

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!

What are their opinions or feelings about what you're talking about?

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.

Let them explain something

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.

Two universal lifelines

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.

example

A CONVERSATION BETWEEN TWO STRANGERS

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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.

-You: Hi, I'm David!

-Stranger: Hi, I’m Josh!

-How are you doing?

-I’m good.

-Where are you from?

-I’m from town.

-Ah, you were born here?

-Yes

-I think I’m starting to get my head around this town now. Which is the best cafe to do schoolwork from in your opinion?

(Josh starts explaining, and at the same time get’s warmed up talking to you)

- Where do you like to be when you do work?

- I think I prefer just sitting at home or sometimes being in the library.

- By the way, what phone is that?

(Josh talks about his phone)

- I’m thinking about getting an Iphone, but you would recommend that one?

(Josh talks)

- So what’s your plan, do you want to stay here, or do you want to live somewhere else in the future?

(Josh explains that he wants to live in Berlin)

- I see, that's a place I want to visit, actually. Why Berlin?

(Josh explains)

- OK, so it’s mainly the culture and the atmosphere.

-Exactly! And also…(It’s easy for Josh to talk about something he likes, so now he starts talking more about Berlin.)

-I should go there some day. How do you spend your weekends in this town?

- There are a lot of clubs, but I spend most of my time gaming, actually.

-What games?

(Josh explains what games he plays)

- I’m playing [ that game] too. What level… (The conversation continues from there)

Initiating a conversation should be as simple as possible. Nothing fancy here.

Make sure to adjust how quickly and loudly you speak to the other person. If you approach the conversation with too high an energy level, you might come off as annoying.

When you come across people who are not super-social, you will probably have to fire off a couple of questions before you can expect to get them into the conversation. They need to get “warmed up”.


I make a statement to break off the questions, and follow it up with a new question, making it easier for Josh to carry on with the conversation.










Here, I didn’t come up with anything to relate to Josh’s reply, so I changed the subject to the phone he had on the table. You can talk about almost anything as long as it relates to the conversation or the situation. There’s also a possibility that Josh likes his phone, and then it’s something he’s emotionally connected to.















Here, I didn’t come up with anything more on the “Berlin” thread for the moment, so I summarized what he had just said. Summaries are great to make the other person notice that you are alert and care about what he or she is saying, and you can always use this "summary trick" even if your head’s blank.

Notice how I repeatedly let him explain things, and that as soon as I didn't come up with something to say about the current subject, I went back to a previous one.


We now reached a mutual interest. The small talk is over, and the conversation becomes interesting. Now, both Josh and I can come up with things to say without effort.



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.


If we extract what we’ve learned from this conversation, keep this in mind to ask:

-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.

AVOID THESE DANGEROUS MISTAKES WHEN MAKING CONVERSATION

1. Don’t conduct interviews

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.

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- Hi! How are you doing?
- Good!
- How do you know people here?
- I know [this and that person].
- Ah. Where are you from?
- Brooklyn
- 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?

Don’t get too caught up in details.

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.

2. Never comment on the awkward silence

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.


3. Don't end with a statement.

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?

WHY I WANT YOU TO BREAK THE RULES OF THIS GUIDE

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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.

SUMMARY

  • Ask questions that the other person can connect to emotionally. These include questions concerning his or her interests, experiences and hopes and dreams. All this can be summarized as questions that contain the word “you”.
  • End statements and stories with a questions, so that the other person will be able to continue the conversation.
  • If you don’t come up with anything to say, ask something about any previous subject you were talking about.
  • Don’t censor yourself: Say something silly rather than not saying anything at all. People don’t notice “silly questions” – they notice awkward silence.
  • Make it a habit to get to know the other person’s opinions or feelings on what you are currently talking about.
  • Ask the other person to expand on the subject by letting him or her explain how something was or how something works.
  • Two phrases you can use that work almost any time are “Where are you from?” and “Did you hear that [newsworthy story]?”
  • Avoid performing interviews by breaking off your questions with your own statements and stories.
  • Avoid pointing out the awkward silence by commenting on it.
  • Break some of the rules in this guide rather than trying to watch your tongue and becoming self-aware as a result. See the bigger perspective of this guide as a pathway to better conversations.

BEFORE YOUR NEXT CONVERSATION

Hey!

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.

GO TO CHAPTER 4 >

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