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.
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!