Everybody has had a conversation that is lacking in material; the kind of of interaction filled with “awkward silences.” Why are those lulls awkward, though? Why is it the automatic reaction of most people to fill the silence?
One of the most common reasons people need small talk is because they are uncomfortable in the silence. In an ideal talk the topics keep rolling in and nobody ever has to think about what they are going to say next. For that reason, when the conversation lacks material, people feel the need to create some.
Personal image is another reason people fill the silence with pleasantries. Think of the people who are considered “the life of the party;” most often they are the ones who always have a new story to tell
or a new joke to crack, something to tell no matter how pointless it is. People start to think that since they have nothing to say, they are not interesting. It is a common desire to be part of the crowd, and being the quiet one is not how you get there.
So why is silence a good thing? For some people, especially those who tend to be on the introvert side of the spectrum, it takes time to process things. Some people are good at multitasking and churning out answers; others need silence to reflect on what is being said.
“Why speak at all if you have nothing to say” is a common argument. Maybe it seems rude to be sitting by someone and not engage. Sometimes, though, it is more uncomfortable to talk with someone you do not know well about something you do not care about.
Give this a try: next time you encounter an “awkward silence”, do not try and fill it. It may seem awkward at first, and maybe you will decide that small talk is much better than saying nothing at all. More likely, though, you will realize that it is far more comfortable to let the conversation end than draw it out.