Have you ever noticed that when you ask a question, and the other person is thinking about what you said… that there is a quiet pause? It is very important to keep your focus, be patient and wait for the answer. Let’s call that a comfortable silence. If you have brought up a touchy subject (like politics, sex or religion), then you may have what is called an awkward silence.
Make Silence Your Ally
Why is silence sometimes uncomfortable? Any negative comment will often create a hostile reaction (i.e. racial slur, insult, stereotype or gossip). So, avoid negativity and if you don’t have anything good to say, be quiet! Your silence is neither criticism nor approval. Rather, it is a signal to change the subject.
The old policy of avoiding politics, sex and religion helps prevent awkward silence. Practical people may want to weigh the consequences of bringing up polarizing topics. In the 9/26/16 issue of Harvard Business Review, Liane Davey says “If you wade into an issue that’s highly [divisive], you risk souring a relationship.” You can read about it at…. https://hbr.org/2016/09/should-you-talk-about-politics-at-work
Unless you are around close friends or people that are very interested in particular topics, then you should avoid these subjects. Why? These topics provoke disagreement and negative reactions – that’s why. So, what should you talk about?
Ask People About Their Occupation!
My father is a great conversationalist. M.S. Van Hecke often says “Try asking people about their work environment and what they do for a living.” It really works too – I’m constantly amazed at how people open up when it comes to their profession.
Then, listen to what they say and laugh at their punch lines! Hang on their words and ask follow up questions. Become fascinated with other people and watch how comfortable it is to be silent.