How to Recover From an Awkward Silence

Two Methods:Navigating Silence After an Inappropriate CommentBreaking in a Conversation

Awkward silences are, well, awkward. You may not know where to look or what to say or how to recover from the situation. It may be that the silence is resulting from you saying something inappropriate, or it may be that you are having trouble saying anything at all. Whatever the case, there are a number of ways to recover from these kinds of situations.

Method 1
Navigating Silence After an Inappropriate Comment

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    Assess what you said. If you find yourself in the middle of an awkward silence that might have been caused by something you said, take some time to reflect on what you might have said and how it might have negatively impacted your conversation partner.
    • Even if you don't think you said anything bad, empathize with your conversation partner and view the conversation through her eyes. Empathy can help foster good relationships, while a lack of empathy can be damaging to relationships.[1]This emotional perspective-taking can help you identify your offensive remark in times of uncertainty.
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    Fix the situation with humor. One great way to move past an awkward silence is by using humor to directly confront the elephant in the room.[2] This allows you to directly deal the awkwardness while making light of it, and can serve as a nice transition that will help you to move past the situation and onto better topics of conversation.
    • For example, you might try some self-deprecating humor, such as "Sorry about that. Apparently sometimes I like to channel my inner Michael Scott and throw everyone for a loop with some Dunder Mifflin managerial shenanigans."
    • Only use this approach when you're the one who has committed the awkward act. If you make fun of someone else's awkwardness, this could upset them further and make the situation even more awkward.
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    Stay calm. If you become anxious about the awkward silence, this can interfere with your ability to think clearly and come up with ways to remove the silence.[3]
    • To stay calm, breathe deeply in over a few seconds and exhale slowly over another few seconds.
    • You can also try broadening your view of the situation, which can help put an awkward silence in perspective. To do this, you can ask yourself a question to challenge your feelings, such as, will you actually care about this conversation a month from now?[4]
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    Change the topic. In many cases, it is probably best to avoid apologizing for the comment and just to change the topic and move on. Blow past the awkwardness by talking about something else. The main goal here is to get her mind off of what you said before and get it thinking about what you're saying now.[5]
    • That said, if you said something highly offensive or if she looks clearly upset, you may way to apologize for making that remark. Keep your apology short and to the point and be ready to change the conversation right after, otherwise the awkward silence may remain.
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    Bring back previous discussion topics. You may have had a great conversation earlier with her that you could bring back up again to change the subject. This can be a great way to remind her that you both generally get along, but that you just said something inappropriate this one time.[6]
    • For example, you might say "remember that conversation we had earlier, I'm still curious about why you think X..."

Method 2
Breaking in a Conversation

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    Avoid questions that can be answered with "yes" or "no" replies. If you are trying to recover from an awkward silence, you will want to kill the silence, not just wound it so it is temporarily out of order. If you ask yes or no questions, there's no guarantee that the conversation won't just stop in its tracks again as soon as the person answers it.[7]
    • For example, rather than saying "do you like dogs?" you might ask "do you like dogs or cats better and why one over the other?"
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    Ask for opinions. People have opinions, sometimes that are quite strong. The nice thing about opinions is that they come to mind easily because they are well-formed and well-known to the speaker. This makes for very fluid and easy conversation.[8]
    • Unless you know the person well, it may be best to avoid asking for opinions about controversial or personal topics, e.g., politics and religion.
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    Look for mutual interests. This could be mutual interest in music, fiction, history, work, exercise, really whatever comes to mind that you think you two might possibly share some overlap on.[9]
    • Ask open-ended questions about your mutual interests. For example, if you find out you both like the same kind of music, you might ask her to tell you about a concert she has recently been to.
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    Talk about your shared environment/surroundings. Look around and comment on the things that you both see about you. This could be the construction of a nearby building, or something about the traffic, or a nearby festival, farmer's market, really whatever is around you that you can both see.[10]
    • Try to make sure that you ask open-ended questions in this context though. For example, rather than saying "hey do you see that farmer's market over there?" you might ask "what's the most tasty thing you've ever gotten from a farmer's market?"
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    Ask about hobbies. Most people have some kind of thing they do for fun outside of work or school. Not only is asking about her hobbies a great way to break the awkward silence, but it can be a great way to get to know someone you aren't that familiar with, better, too.[11]
    • If she states that she doesn't have any hobbies, you might follow up with asking about hobbies that she has done in the past or whether she is hoping to try anything in the future.
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    Ask about things that are cared for. If you know some things that the person you are in an awkward silence with cares about, ask her about that. For example, if she has kids or a cat, you could ask her how they are doing.[12]
    • People like to talk about what is important to them and what is familiar and easily comes to mind, so use that to break the awkward silence.


  • Try to avoid tired and boring topics, such as comments about the weather.

Article Info

Categories: Handling Rejection