How to Overcome the Fear of Awkward Silences

When you have social anxiety, is anything more scary than those horrendous awkward silences?  Those moments when you’re forced to interact with another person, but the conversation just bogs down?

And you two stand there.  Looking at each other.  In never-ending awkward silence.

For what feels like an ETERNITY.

But why does this happen, exactly?  And is there any way to effectively deal with the social anxiety that’s preventing the conversation from flowing any better?

Well, let’s take a look at a couple scenarios.

In this example, let’s say that we’re both taking our dogs on a walk.  In this scenario, I see you walking and approach you.

And now, let’s say the conversation goes something like this:

Me: Hi.  Good morning.

You: Good morning.

Me: Beautiful dog you have there.

You: Thanks.

Now, let’s stop.  Because here is where a typical awkward silence might appear, right?  We’ve both exchanged pleasantries, and I’ve even thrown in a compliment, but the conversation isn’t really building, is it?

Your answers are short and sweet, likely due to your shyness or social phobia.  Or simply because you’re overthinking the situation.  Maybe your fear of potential awkwardness creates…well…more awkwardness.

In short, you’re worried about how you’re coming across.  You’re wondering if I think you sound silly or if I’m wasting my time by talking to you.

But what is that preventing you from doing?  It’s preventing you from being present in the moment.  So instead of naturally responding to another person in the moment, you’re already worrying about things you’ve said in the past.

You’re feeling uncomfortable, and it’s affecting the situation.

So what can you do here to crush the awkward silence?

Well, instead of worrying that you don’t have anything to say, let’s examine the situation.

You see me walking my dog.  You also have a dog.

So we’re both likely dog lovers.

So why not compliment my dog?  Or ask me where I got him.  Or ask me how long I’ve had him.  Or ask me how old he is, or if I have any other animals.

Based on this situation, what else do you know about me?  Again, instead of worrying that you’re about to suffer an awkward encounter, let’s examine the situation.

I’m walking my dog.  People who are walking their dog in a neighborhood usually live in that neighborhood.

So ask me if I live around the neighborhood.  Ask me how long I’ve lived here, or if I’m a recent transplant to the city.

Putting it Into Practice

Now, let’s go back to our original conversation example and implement one of these new ideas.

Me: Hi.  Good morning.

You: Good morning.

Me: Beautiful dog you have there.

You: Thanks.

Now, examine the situation, and instead of worrying about the awkward silence, let’s crush it with a short follow-up question.

You: Is that a miniature schnauzer?  He’s very well groomed.  How long have you had him?

Me: About 10 years.  My parents actually got him for me on my 21st birthday.  They actually rescued him from a no-kill shelter.

You: Wow, that’s great.  We got our chocolate lab from a local breeder.  But I’ve always appreciated people who rescue animals from shelters.

Me: I agree.  It’s just the right thing to do.

This is another moment where an awkward pause could sabotage the situation.  So you could end the conversation here.  But again, examining the situation (and of course, wanting to expand your social network), why don’t you ask one more question?

You: So do you live around here?

Me: Yeah, about two blocks away.  I recently moved here when I accepted a new job.

You: Congratulations.  Are you enjoying the city?

Me: I am.  It’s very big, so I’m still learning my way around and trying to meet new people.  I’m Michael, by the way.

You: I’m [your name].

Me: Good to meet you.  Well, I need to get home and feed this guy, so I’ll see you later.

You: Okay, have a great day.

How to beat awkward silences

So what’s the biggest takeaway here?  How did we beat the awkward moments, keep the conversation flowing, and potentially get to know someone who down the line might become a friend?

Simply put, we accessed the situation, examined the person rather than the fear of the person, and we asked questions.

That’s the key.  When you’re getting to know someone, I think it’s easy to forget that it doesn’t have to be all about you.  And that’s a good thing when you feel a bit uneasy when it comes to meeting a new person.

People love to talk about themselves, so give them a reason to do so.  Because along the way, you might realize you can form a connection with someone, stamp out those awkward moments, and maybe even make a new friend in the process, as well.

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