Awkward Silences

Yes, this kid is laughing at us. Credit: Ben White on Unsplash.

In college we had this friend that we called the Terminator. But not because he was ripped or ruthless like Arnold Schwarzenegger. But because he terminated conversations. We’d be hanging out  in our dorm with the conversation rolling, our friend would say something awkward that no one was sure how to respond to, then there’d be silence. And we’d start laughing. Our friend was a good sport about it. In all fairness, we would use that on anyone that made a weird comment which led to an awkward silence.

As I’ve grown and matured a bit, I’ve realized that awkward silences can actually be useful in a conversation. Admittedly, I do try to avoid awkward comment induced silences, but a slight pause in a conversation is a good thing.

A bit of silence is also a good preventative measure. Especially if we’re in a heated discussion. We all understand a debate or an argument can get our emotions running high. These are the times we’re most likely to say something anger-filled, offensive or aggressive. And we’ll usually regret it. Even more so if it’s a family member or a close friend -- it may do damage to the relationship. I’ve found it useful to lean into that pause, take a deep breath and get my blood pressure lowered before I respond. But I’m definitely still a work in progress.

I think we should also address the fact that so often in our culture we think we feel like we HAVE to say something or we’ll look incompetent or lack confidence. Proverbs 17:28 has the perfect rejoinder to this: “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.” Staying silent is not only ok, it can make you look wise.

The times that I have most regretted things I’ve said were when I said something without pausing, without collecting my thoughts. Instead I made a comment off the cuff. If I had intentionally allowed a break in the conversation, I would have avoided those angry or embarrassing comments. With hindsight I understand this, now I need to apply it going forward.