When you're trying to talk to someone, unintentional breaks in the conversation can feel quite uncomfortable. Awkward silences need only be brief to bring on unsettling feelings, because they disrupt the natural flow of conversation. When a conversation flows, it makes everyone feel included and validated. Silences usually occur when one person talks in a way that doesn't advance the topic at hand. Careful listening and questioning are good routes to finding topics that you are both able to talk about.
Ask Open-Ended Questions
When communication breaks down, asking questions can encourage the other person to talk and shows that you are interested in what he has to say. Keep the questions open-ended, so that they require a more elaborate answer than just "yes" or "no." Good conversation-starters might be, "Where did you last go on vacation?" or "Where do you like to hang out?" Listen carefully to his responses so that you can pick out similar experiences that you have had to continue the conversation.
Discuss Common Experiences
Familiar topics can evaporate moments of social awkwardness. Bring up experiences that you have in common. If you know the same friends, you could discuss the last time you saw them. If you live in the same neighborhood, talk about the local area. If you go, or went to, the same school, mention some of your teachers. If the problem occurs with a stranger, think about how and where you met each other, and what you could say about that experience.
Find Shared Interests
People find social situations less awkward when shared interests are apparent, research from John Jay College, published in "Group Processes and Intergroup Relations," revealed. Consider what topics might interest the person you are talking to, based on her age, gender and background. Ask what her favorite television program is or whether she watches a specific show. Ask what she enjoys doing in her spare time, what her favorite sport is or if she has any pets. Find things that you are both passionate about -- and can discuss enthusiastically.
Talking about music is a good way to find common ground and get conversation flowing. When strangers were given the task of getting to know each other, music was the most common topic of conversation, an experiment involving students at the University of Texas revealed. The 2006 study, published in "Psychological Science," showed that students chatted about music as a way of expressing their personalities. Ask which bands the other person likes or if he has been to any concerts recently.
- Psychological Science: Message in a Ballad - The Role of Music Preferences in Interpersonal Perception
- Group Processes and Intergroup Relations: Stranger Situations: Examining a Self-Regulatory Model of Socially Awkward Encounters
- Journal of Experimental Social Psychology: Disrupting the Flow: How Brief Silences in Group Conversations Affect Social Needs
- Human Communication Research: Awkward Silences: Behavioral Antecedents and Consequences of the Conversational Lapse
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