We’ve all been there.
We all hate it.
We all know the feeling.
When you don’t know what to say, or you’re about to run out of stuff to say, you can feel it, right?
Maybe you’re talking with someone you’ve already met once or twice when you run out of the obvious “getting to know you” type chat.
Or you had something in mind to say next but suddenly, poof! You forget what it was, the other person stops talking and the awkward silence starts to build.
When stuff like that happens to me, I begin to feel a little sick to my stomach.
I have a tiny freak out thinking, “No, not again! I don’t want ANOTHER person to think I’m quiet and boring!”
We all want a way out of that humiliating silence.
So here’s a 5-step process to help you come up with the words you need when you don’t know what to say.
Step 1: Don’t Fight Anxiety…Accept It and Act Through It
When your conversation with someone is winding down and you don’t know where to take it next, you usually feel a mild panic.
(Or maybe it’s not so mild.)
It’s almost the exact same anxiety as when you want to talk to someone new but can’t think of how to start.
In either case, your instinct is typically to suppress that fear.
You try to think “positive” thoughts like, “NO, there’s no reason to panic.” Or you try to pump yourself up saying, “I’m great. I’m awesome. I’m a rockstar!”
Well…that doesn’t really work does it?
You usually don’t feel any more confident and you still don’t have anything to say.
It’s like the harder you fight back that anxiety, the worse it feels and the harder it is to think of a conversation topic.
So, try this instead…
Don’t fight it.
I find that when I acknowledge the truth, that at the moment I can’t think of anything to say and it’s got me a little worried, it takes some pressure off.
This doesn’t mean my anxiety goes away completely.
No, it’s still there.
The point is, if you “fight” your anxiety and “try to be confident” or think to yourself, “I’m not going to be afraid this time,” you’re making things worse.
You’re putting more energy into your anxiety by thinking about it so much, even though you’re thinking how you don’t want it.
All that does is give it more power. Like a Chinese Finger Trap, the more you struggle against anxiety, the harder it squeezes.
So instead, accept that you’re anxious. Realize it’s a human emotion and it is OK to feel it.
It’s not “bad.” It just is.
You don’t have to be ashamed of feeling the way you feel.
Just do your best to act in spite of anxiety by focusing on some of the more constructive actions below (instead of focusing on your fear).
Step 2: Change Your Perspective to Be More Realistic
Many shy and socially uncomfortable people have completely irrational beliefs about conversation. This is a problem because it creates more anxiety and ultimately keeps you quiet when you want to talk.
For example, think of a social setting now where you feel uncomfortable. One where you’d have no idea what to talk about.
Now, it’s easy to only focus on yourself and your own “inadequacies” when you’re in this situation.You think everyone else is cool and confident and you’re not.
Suddenly you feel insignificant and powerless, and that’s no place to have good conversations from.
But let’s Spock out and get logical for a second…
Is it realistic to believe you’re the ONLY one feeling insecure?
C’mon…just from watching movies and reading stories, you know that everyone has self-esteem issues to some degree. That’s why we can relate to our favorite fiction characters…because they seem to have fears, weaknesses and self-doubt just like we do.
That’s because the best fiction mimics real human experience. All humans have some degree of self-doubt.
So use this common sense knowledge to your advantage next time you’re nervous.
Remember the other people around you are likely feeling their own insecurities too. They might even be wishing THEY could come up with something to say to you.
I find when I remember this, I feel more connected to the people around me AND more confident in myself.
And this is all from just consciously having a more realistic attitude about socializing.
What other unrealistic beliefs on conversation do you have?
Do you think you should be able to know exactly what to say in ALL situations? Do you believe you must get to the point where you never make a social mistake again?
Are either of those realistic beliefs? (…just to be on the safe side here, no, they aren’t)
Root these irrational thoughts out and think of realistic alternatives to use in the moment to empower you.
Step 3: Start Being Observant
So you’ve accepted your anxiety and gotten your thoughts on track, but how do you actually come up with something to say when you’re drawing a blank?
Well, the quickest way is by looking around and commenting on what you observe.
What do you notice about him or her that stands out?
Is it something they’re wearing? Maybe it’s something they’re doing or just said?
What stands out about the surrounding’s you’re both in?
If you’re at a wedding, maybe ask if they’ve tried the cake. At a friend’s party, ask the person how he or she knows the host.
The attitude to have is that you’re fishing. You’re throwing out possible conversation topics to see what ones get a bite.
Eventually, you’re bound to dangle a subject in front of them that’ll get more than a few “nibbles.”
Step 4: Use Their Responses to Keep Things Going
Keep in mind, when you’re asking questions or making statements about what you observe (from step 3), sometimes the topic might not seem all that exciting.
In the moment, you might only be able to think of mentioning the weather.
But the important thing isn’t always the topic you throw out there first. It’s the second topic discovered along the way that matters.
For example, if there’s a lull in the conversation and you bring up the weather, maybe the other person talks about the rain for a second too.
But somewhere in there, she mentions how her puppy got drenched in the storm because the doggie door was stuck shut.
Do you think she has an emotional attachment to her puppy and would enjoy talking about that?
Thing is, you got to that fun topic by way of a mundane one.
Now, just ask a question or make a statement about the “free information” of the puppy to keep the chat going…
“Oh, how old is your puppy?
“Haha, it sounds like you wish your puppy were here right now!”
Step 5: Share Some of Yourself
This last step is the “magic” ingredient that can seriously reduce the awkward silences you encounter.
See, if you’re shy, being open about your thoughts and opinions can feel scary.
That’s because you may have been embarrassed in the past for not fitting in. So you become fearful of saying the “wrong thing” and making a fool of yourself.
If you’re introverted, you might have a similar reluctance to share your inner world because you feel it’s private. You only share with people you know well and trust.
I understand both ways of thinking (because I have been shy and I am introverted).
But if you don’t share your thoughts, opinions and experiences with people by TELLING THEM, you’re seriously limiting your conversations and your relationships.
Take the example above of the puppy in the rain.
Maybe you could share with the person YOUR stories of puppies you’ve had. Or, you could talk about how you’re not a dog person and you’ve always liked cats.
The idea is by revealing some of yourself, you start to build a connection. The person begins to feel they’re getting to know you.
This is the “magic” that breaks down the barrier of rigid and uncertain conversation.
The more two people feel they know each other, the more their conversations begin to flow like it does between true friends (unless the two people are incompatible somehow).
When you make a habit of disclosing relevant experiences, opinions and facts from your life like this, your relationships evolve.
You bond faster and become much less likely to experience awkward silences.
So obviously you want to follow the steps above when you run out of things to say. But do yourself a favor…
Don’t be so hard on yourself if things don’t go perfectly the very next time you hit a quiet streak.
This takes practice. The more you work on moving through the steps, the easier it becomes. You get accustomed to casually and confidently “fishing” for new topics.
And speaking of practice, if you’d like more “from the trenches” advice on how to have flowing conversations without the awkward tension, be sure to get my free social success video series by clicking here.