It’s golden, but awkward

Posted on 27/11/2019 · Posted in Dialogos, Our languages, Recent news, Writing Lab

To many, the festive season and family gatherings go hand in hand. At the same time, it’s an unwritten rule that you are bound to disagree with some distant relative or – even worse – just run out of things to say. Awkward silence ensues…

In 2010, researchers at the University of Groningen looking into the lull in a conversation found that it takes around four seconds for a silence to become unbearable. Now what?

Scouring the internet for solutions to avoiding awkward silences yields tons of results, but the answers tend to focus on conversations with strangers or colleagues, not your own family members. The awkwardness could only intensify if you ask Cousin Lee “Where do you come from?” or, heaven forbid, “Why are you here?”

There are however a few nice ideas in some of the articles, like communication expert Victor Sander’s suggestion of using ’you-questions’. The idea is basically to ask questions that have the word ’you’ in them, for example “What do you do in your free time?” Sanders says by doing this you allude to an interest in the person you’re talking to, which tends to make them more invested in the conversation.

Melissa Dahl, author of Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness, suggests that silence actually isn’t something to be feared. Dahl found that the main reason a silence feels awkward is because there’s a high level of uncertainty. People tend to dislike not knowing what to say or do next. Knowing that, it’s just a question of finding something to be certain of…

So, be certain that your family loves you, be sure that it’s not your turn to do the dishes, and know that after another glass of wine Aunt Rachel is going to start talking about her dachshund.