How to Fill Awkward Silences

It's that moment when the clock still ticks but nobody says anything. Time seems to drag interminably. Tick, tick, tick... At a loss for words, you're not sure how to fill those empty moments. Filling awkward silences is a skill every person can learn; it's something that happens to every person at one time or other and it's definitely something that you can learn to overcome.


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    Acknowledge the moment. This works best when the conversation has been halted by somebody saying something embarrassing, rude, or untimely.
    • For example, you're talking with a friend and telling them about your great date last night, and they respond with the date they're having tonight—only to discover that you're both dating the same person! The silence will be so thick you could cut it with a knife. Simply say "Awkward!" in a funny voice to diffuse the moment.
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    Find something non-threatening to comment upon. Sometimes, people run out of things to say, so it's good to have a couple ideas to get things back on track.
    • For example, if you are having a meal together, say something about the food: "Is it me, or is this the best salad place in town?" Not only does that break the silence, by posing it as a question rather than a statement, it gives your conversation partner something positive to which they can respond.
    • The weather is another common, safe topic. If you're inexperienced in small talk, begin with something simple, such as "Did that thunderstorm wake you up last night?"
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    Listen carefully to what your acquaintance says back to you. As with any good conversation, the biggest key is to listen.
    • If they respond to your question with a short, flat statement such as "Yep," or "Nope," that might seem like a bit of a challenge, but look on it as an opportunity to add to the original statement.
    • For example, say you ask, "Did you like that movie?" they answer, simply, "Nope." Now you can ask them what it was that they didn't like. The plot? The score? It gives you more opportunities to restart the conversation.
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    Talk about your achievements. This can be a great way to find something in common with another person. Avoid the "mine is better than yours" types of comments, such as how much you make, or how big your house is.
    • For example, if you're sitting next to somebody, trying to start the conversation, saying "I own a 5-bedroom house with an olympic-sized swimming pool," and they live in an efficiency apartment with a tiny shower, they're going to feel, at the very least, inadequate. They're also going to think you're shallow and boorish. Your awkward silence will be over though, as they will probably excuse themselves quickly.
    • Instead, talk about something that's unique, and that gives you some honest yet humble pride. It's best if it's about something that you both might have an interest in. For example, if you are with a group of outdoors-y people, you might say something like "I was rock climbing this last weekend, and on-sighted a 5.9 with no beta!" If your partner is at all interested, they may respond with enthusiasm for your achievement, or at worst, ask you what the heck a "5.9 with no beta" is.
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    Avoid flat responses. Avoid one-word "yes" or "no" responses yourself, and try not asking questions that prompt simple yes or no answers.
    • Also avoid conversation stoppers—responses that put a period at the end of the conversation. For example, if you're talking about something amusing and your conversation partner says, "Yeah that was funny!", don't respond with "Haha, yeah." That just kills a conversation.
    • Recover gracefully, should that happen, by picking up the conversation yourself, either continuing on the original topic, or starting a new one. Remember to phrase your comments in the form of questions until the conversation is rolling along naturally.
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    Think about things to talk about, ahead of time. If you know you'll be in a situation where you'll be meeting new people, and perhaps thrust into a setting where one-on-one conversation with a stranger is likely, think of topics you can bring up.
    • Keep it topical. If you're with a group of people who are together based on a particular hobby, sport, or job, prepare a couple questions in advance that might spark a conversation. In a group organized around cleaning up the beaches, for example, you might say "Hey, did you see the new fines for littering? It's over $9,000! Do you think that stops anybody?"
    • If it's a generic group, or people with a variety of interests, talk about recent events. Try to keep it light, at least until you get to know your conversation partner.
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    Relax. The other person should also be making an effort to join the conversation, so try to ask leading questions about them, instead of talking about yourself. Not only will they be inclined to respond (people often like talking about themselves!), they may also ask a question of you in response. You don't want it to end up being just you directing the conversation! Breathe in and relax.
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    Transfer the awkwardness to a third party. Sometimes, you might find the two of you have hit on a topic that's uncomfortable to one or both of you, and silence ensues. Asking a personal question at this point might make things even more awkward. In this case, you need an object of transference
    • For example, make a funny or intriguing comment about an inanimate object: "I heard these floorboards were originally part of the Winchester House. The owner of that building was quite eccentric, you know."
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    Find an activity. If you decide you enjoy the person you're talking with, but for whatever reason the conversation has stalled, suggest something you can do together.
    • For example, if you're at a party it could be as simple as becoming the ad hoc greeting committee for new arrivals, or you could volunteer to be the bartenders for a little while. Maybe even create a signature cocktail and name it after the two of you!
    • If you are on a date, or it's otherwise just the two of you, suggest a walk, or a snowball fight, or some other activity you can both do at the moment.
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    Start a new topic. It may not be that you have run out of things to say, only that the topic of conversation has been played out. Take the conversation in a different direction by talking about the news or the weather, or your favorite book—anything to break away from the previous conversation.
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    Don't cut off the other person unless you want the conversation to end. Focusing on something other than your conversation partner is a sure way to turn them into "somebody you were talking to earlier."
    • For example, checking your phone for messages. Nothing says "excuse me, but this lump of plastic is much more interesting than you at the moment" more than whipping out your iPhone and setting your fingers in motion. This gives you something to do, which is good, because the other person will be walking away.


  • Saying "awkward" in an awkward situation only makes things more awkward.
  • Be super friendly and laugh a lot. Just don't overdo it.
  • Ask about the person's hobbies and interests. People love talking about what they like!
  • Once the person lets something slip, you may be onto a real conversation. If you mentioned the pouring rain, and your new companion expressed worry about his dog getting sick in the cold wet weather, you have hit pay dirt. Now you can spend the rest of the evening talking about dogs.....and whatever topics that whole thing may lead to.
  • If you feel like there is a bit of awkwardness in the air, smile like you don't notice.
  • If you've had a good, multi-topic conversation and hit a wall, turn around and ask how you ended up talking about dogs when you actually started a conversation about local restaurants. Maybe the main link between these topics is a common acquaintance that you've been to a movie with recently. This could spark a vivid conversation about movies and TV shows, eventually leading to books or music.
  • Ask about the family, just remember to not let the subject slip into something more awkward (disease, old relationships, etc.)
  • If you like dogs too, you may hit it off with this new friend. If not, try to find another topic buried in the words of the other person.
  • Think ahead of relevant things to bring up, for example how's your job going or home life, but if you've never met them before just think of things before too, because there's nothing worse than trying to break the silence but not knowing what to say.
  • Know when to quit. If conversation is not happening for whatever reason, and you're in a situation that permits, smile and say "Please excuse me," and walk away. Find a friend to talk to, or simply walk outside and get some fresh air.
  • Sometimes, it's good to flow with the silence if there's nothing to say. If that's the case, make a weird face or just look at an object for a little while. Your friend will eventually say "What are you looking at?" and you can proceed to say something comedic shortly after. Example: (looking at a wall) Friend: "Uh, what are you looking at?" You: "A wall. Duh." Then say something random. Depending on whom you're talking to, this may strike up a humorous conversation as your friend will look at it too and start to laugh.
  • If you're on a date, and the conversation is just as unproductive as the date, call it a night. Say something like "Well, I really should get going—I need to bathe the cat tonight, and my favorite news program is on."

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Categories: Managing Conflict and Difficult Interactions