You Know What's Missing from Your Conversation? Awkward Pauses!

2:40 PM

As a more extroverted member in society, I feel obligated to say stuff when the conversation drops. Unfortunately for everyone involved, I am not a good conversationalist. I come up with one, maybe two, solid-ish questions, and once those questions are answered, the only words that come to mind are, "Oh, my gosh!" or "Great!" or "That's awesome!" If I'm really desperate, I'll steal my roommate's awkward silence filler word and say, "Interesting."

Then I pause.

I wait for them to say something.

I wait for them to go on.

I wait for them to pull their weight in the conversation.

Nothing happens.

So I repeat, "Oh, my gosh," "Great," "That's awesome," and "Interesting." Or I start talking about my boyfriend. I don't know which is more embarrassing, but they're both lesser evils compared to THE AWKWARD PAUSE. Right?

Ever since I read this article, I stopped freaking out about awkward pauses. Out in the real world, like the workplace or ministry, or out in the half-real world, like college -- basically any place besides homeschool high school where you're incredibly talkative because that's the only way to make and keep up with friends -- talking gets exhausting. So many words, from calling "Have a nice day and be well!" to every customer, to reading twenty emails a day, to questioning philosophy in class. It's too much. By the time I end up at lunch, sometimes I just want to eat yet another piece of chicken in silence. Total silence. The murmur of hundreds of people wash over me, but I'm safe and quiet and not thinking while I'm eating my chicken next to a good friend.

In fact, sometimes my best dates are silent ones -- the ones where I text a friend and say, "Can you come sit with me and not say anything?" It's beautiful.

I've learned to pass on this gift of learning to be still, silent, and slowed down by not jumping the gun on filling awkward pauses. When I eat with a huge group of friends and we all seem zoned out, exhausted, sniffly, and desiring ten hours of sleep, I'm not the one to say anything. We just eat there, awkwardly, nervously enjoying quiet. Is this even allowed? This silence undermines the entirety of the American social scene...but boy, do our souls and our sanity need it!

This works in really intense one-on-one situations too -- like when someone's crying on your shoulder and you literally don't have any idea what to say. Don't say anything. They'll talk. Let them work it out inwardly in those awkward pauses until it wells up into words that you can respond to with a touch, or a facial expression, or a short word. 

I don't know why we think that a person undergoing emotional trauma can keep up a steady flow of conversation about a subject that they can barely handle, much less package into coherent words. Such a person doesn't need a socially acceptable conversation; she needs a friend to enter into the wordless turmoil. Sometimes I need to people to say something when I'm upset, true. And sometimes, it feels amazing to just tell them the story of my sorrow, hear them say, "I don't know what to tell you," and feel loved. They've entered into my confusion, my lapsed silences, my broken words. 

If you feel like awkward pauses are what's ruining the conversation, think again. It could be prolonged talking that ruins great conversation, empathy, and friendship. Here's to more awkward pauses in your conversations!

What do you think? Are you inspired to let awkward pauses
enter into your conversations? 

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13 impressions

  1. Wow. This gives great hope for me, because I also am always feeling awkward because of long pauses in conversations. It makes me feel like I HAVE to keep the conversation going in some form or another because OH MY GOODNESS IF NO-ONE TALKS THEN...WILL THEY JUDGE ME???!!!. But really. I'm going to pass this on to some of my friends, because I know (at least in my case) my soul could really use some lulls in everyday conversations.

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    1. Good for you, Keely! It's always great to have friends you know so well that you can all be silent and comfortable with each other. Good luck integrating those awkward pauses!!! :D

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  2. I always feel so awkward when someone I don't know very well, or with whom I don't share much in common, is with me; the Pause happens, and I feel like they want me to continue the conversation. But I've learned to resist the urge and only say something if I really want to. Then, if they want the conversation to continue, they'll have to say something first.
    When I'm with people that I really enjoy being around, the awkwardness fades almost completely. I don't feel like I have to say something, and neither do they.
    The other day I was with someone that I see only rarely; we never exchange emails or phone calls, and only see each other when we are both at the same Civil War re-enactments (haha, yep, I do that and it's a ton of fun!). But we have so much in common that we were able to talk freely for a long time on many different topics. And when there were silences, they were companionable silences (except that time someone interrupted us right in the middle of an engaging topic, and we never did pick up that topic where we'd left off. Grrrr!).
    So basically, I've learned not to force myself to talk; and usually, when I do try to make 'small talk' during an awkward pause, the stuff I say is more awkward than the silence. I remember a second cousin of mine told me his daughter had just turned thirty. And I knew about what age she was, but because I felt like I should say something more than, "Oh, tell her happy birthday!", I said, "Really? I thought she was younger." And then, for an inconceivable reason, I added, "Like, twenty-seven or twenty-eight." SO. AWKWARD.

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    1. Bahahahaha! I'm TOTALLY right with you with those awkward comments! :D Except for that awkward social blunder, it sounds like you've got great social skills! I'm jealous!

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  3. Hahaha, this is so great!
    There's this guy that's been coming to church, and for some unexplainable reason (girl's always have unexplainable reasons for the stuff they do, I guess?), I talk to him every week. Despite the introvert that I am, I put on my best social skills and inquire about how his week was, what he has planned for spring break, or how school is going. We start off well, until he says something to which I don't know how to respond and I quietly offer up my thoughtful nod and "interesting." That's where it gets awkward.

    "So...your major is in finance?"

    "Yeah, it is."

    *nods slowly* "Interesting..."

    "No actually not."

    *okay...um....wait, what...huh...*

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    1. OH DEAR! Yeah, awkward small talk sometimes works when the other person politely plays along with the awkward small talk game. But if they're intelligent and quick-witted...I'm so lost in the dust at that point. :P

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  4. I'd like to say something trite like 'they're only awkward pauses if you make them awkward!' ... or something. But really this is a great reminder. Some of the best conversations I've had with people involved us tossing comments at each other while headed in opposite directions and then responding an hour later headed back again. All that extra time to think makes our conversation more insightful and, dare I say it, interesting! And then sometimes silent communication actually communicates more than the river of word vomit we like to spew otherwise.

    What are your thoughts on the subset of awkward pauses when you have a question you want to ask, something you want to share, or a topic you would enjoy talking about with them... and you have no idea what to say to start off?

    --Rhianna

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    1. I love those kind of continued conversations! They're so friendly and fun. :)

      I love awkward pauses when I'm thinking of something to say. As a more extroverted speaker, I tend to think on the go...but I actually prefer to take a moment to gather my thoughts before saying something. And I date a guy who always takes a really long pause before he answers questions, so I've become trained to find those silences less awkward. In a nutshell, I think it's really wise and productive to have those pauses before speaking, and that if anyone finds them awkward, they should embrace them instead! :D

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    2. Definitely; I'd rather think a bit and then say it well, than say it poorly while doing all my thinking out loud!
      --Rhianna

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  5. Ah, yes. Awkward pauses. They're the bane of my existence, because when they happen - I feel like it's my fault. I'm naturally quiet, introspective, a total listener, and generally take forevvvvver to gather my thoughts into cohesive conversations. And how I interact with others is fed by how they're interacting with me (reacting *to* me) - thus, it's my fault when there's a pause. Because I'm boring? I'm stupid? I'm just not fun to talk to? False, they're just having the same problems I'm having. And my only problem is that I'm insecure. Oh, life lessons you wish you'd learned earlier in life.

    So, one thing I've learned over the past year or so - Sarah, calm down. For reals. Take your time. Focus on the person and less your small talk skills. I've found that people don't mind the awkward pauses as much as I'd thought previously. ;-) Sometimes I'll just flat out say, "Sorry, introvert. I need time to process things....*grin*. Give me a few minutes and I can answer that."
    This isn't all to say that I have great conversations all the time now, because let's face it - life is ridiculously awkward. Especially when endeavoring to talk with a more introverted introvert.

    Me - "Hi dear! How are you?
    Them - "I'm fine, how are you?
    Me - "Wonderful! *blah blah blah* And how are you?"
    Them - *blank stare*

    I'd be lying if I said I'd never had an conversation where I asked the person how they were doing more than once. Twice. Three times.......*sheepishly backs away*

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    1. Sarah, you crack me up!!! Ugh, I re-ask people how they are all the time! Sometimes, I'll mistime the "how are you?" as I'm walking past so that there's actually a huge long pause of nervously grinning at each other after they answer "fine." >facepalm< Also, you can't really use "how are you?" to start the second round of small talk later in the day. -.-

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  6. Neat thoughts. I think it applies to prayer too. :)

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    1. Whoa. You're right! Thanks for pointing that out!

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