Dear Aspie: Awkward Silences in Conversation


Dear Aspie:
“How do you work around the inevitable awkward silences that happen to all aspies? When flirting or otherwise?”


More often than not, awkward silences are the result of awkward questions. Aspies often have a hard time understanding this, but it is true.

Read on for GroovyDruid’s entire response!
Most NTs really enjoy chatting. NT women particularly. In fact, I won’t be telling you anything secret when I say NT women LOVE to talk, particularly about their own lives. They will talk and laugh for hours with nothing but occasional eye contact and “Um hm…” “Really?” and “You’re kidding!” to encourage them.

But they clam up if they are unsure about the reception of their chatting. Here is our awkward pause. Rather than talking spontaneously, they are thinking about talking: “What should I say? Is he bored? Is he judging me? Why doesn’t he seem interested?” The nervousness becomes a vicious cycle, and pretty soon both people are tense and uncomfortable.

Mastering the open question helps to avoid the gaping pause. Aspies have a tendency to enjoy and hence give closed questions, ones that ask for a “yes” or “no” answer. Open questions, on the other hand, cannot be answered in less than a sentence: “What sort of people did you encounter in Bangladesh?” NTs like open questions. At best, they give them free reign to expound. At worst, politeness requires that they answer you and so start a conversation. If you pose an easy series of open questions to keep your conversation partner entertained, you will meet fewer empty silences. (You can read more about this in my article on the homepage called “The Secrets of Small Talk”.)

Body language also does more than you would expect to relax a conversation partner. Positive and encouraging body language includes regular eye contact, open body positions such as uncrossed arms and legs, and subtly mirroring (mimicking) the postures and movements of your partner. If you give a person encouraging body language, he will feel more inclined to spend time talking rather than thinking about talking. He will find you a “relaxing” person.

Of course, sometimes you encounter shy or taciturn people. Sometimes talkative people have a bad day. What’s to be done when one gets an awkward pause in this case? I advise giving up.

“What?” Yes! Give up! Be honest. An awkward pause says, in essence, ‘We are done here.” If you try to hang on to a conversation when such a pause comes up, you transmit the following message: “I can feel that we are done, but I am too fearful or attached to you to leave on my own.” People who try to force conversation inevitably come across as idiots and losers. Instead, be the first one to spot the truth and act on it. Excuse yourself and go talk to someone else. Go get a coke at the refreshment table. Go to the bathroom. Get on with your life. You are not solely responsible for the conversation. If awkward pauses come up, move on and either come back later … or don’t. People will enjoy your honestly and be more drawn to talk to you next time. I guarantee it.

And what about flirting? Ditto. If a woman doesn’t keep up her end of the conversation immediately, leave! Get away fast! The sooner you walk confidently over to talk with some other woman, the sooner the first woman will begin to think, “He was kind of cute. Maybe I should have talked to him. Now he’s talking to Justine, and she’s laughing. Shoot.” Same goes for women approaching men.

And last, what about when you are one-on-one with someone? I suggest a modification of the honesty approach. When you cannot leave, tell the other person the truth. Sound bold? It is, and it is exciting. Say, “Boy, this is awkward,” “I can’t think of anything to say,” or “I think this is what they call an awkward pause.” Nine out of ten times, the other person will laugh, and you have rapport once again.

In sum, once an awkward silence comes out, you cannot put it back in the can. Prevention goes a long way. Ask open questions and make sure your body says, “I want to hear what you have to say.” If prevention fails, acknowledge this reality and go on to some other conversation. It’s not your fault, and you don’t have an obligation to entertain anyone. Good luck!

Send your questions to “Dear Aspie”! Just PM your question to GroovyDruid or send an e-mail to [email protected] Questions of a personal nature may be submitted anonymously, though printing a user name is preferred. “Dear Aspie” reserves the privilege of editing for spelling and clarity. Thanks for your submissions!

One thought on “Dear Aspie: Awkward Silences in Conversation”


    • rafi_kamal on September 23, 2015

      Nice article. I often find myself in a situation when I don’t know what to say, and it feels very awkward (although it seems that most of time the other person is OK with small pauses). This article has given me a better idea on what is appropriate in these situations.

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