My spouse has a way of not saying anything while having a conversation. Like nothing. At all. Or maybe just an occasional word uttered too low for anyone to hear. And the other person? They’re not talking either. It’s weird. And inanely boring.
It’s not like these quiet conversations involve a ton of eye contact or even distractions on phones or by dogs or from heavy machinery or police presence. No one is actually informed of their right to or need for an attorney.
These are just long pauses. Not Obama-style pauses where you know something interesting is about to happen. Just dull, dead air.
They’re my cue to leave. But the other people? I think they stay. I don’t really know because I get out the minute I can tell we’ve hit the quiet wall. I hate that wall. I have to make an exit.
Awkward silence scares me. And in all truth, silence during a conversation is almost always awkward. I’m here to entertain not to watch you or someone or me think about stuff. I’ll think after I’ve said my peace, thank you.
Apparently, I’m not alone. In 2021, the BBC reported on studies indicating that English speakers get uncomfortable when mid-conversation silence hits ~4 seconds. Japanese speakers do the same at a bit over 8 seconds. I last maybe 1/2 sec. before I start trying to change the topic.
I confessed my problem at work the other day, after I had vowed I would sit silently in a meeting and just listen because it was the type of meeting that I was pretty sure would provide me with the potential to say all sorts of wrong things. Normally, this wouldn’t be a concern but I work in tech and it’s shedding season for the gainfully employed.
Anyway, the meeting was about 10 minutes old and I had already withstood two rounds of “what are your thoughts?” — with no thoughts volleyed back — before I broke down. I had thoughts. I needed to share them. And so the floodgates opened.
Yes, I broke my promise to stay quiet, but, goddamnit, I was proud of myself for lasting as long as I did. “Silence freaks me out,” I said in my defense.
The BBC supports me, noting that Anglophiles have the biggest problems with sitting through silence. We have no chill. Therapists and behavioral scientists think we should learn to shut up tho.
Think on that quietly for a minute … unless you agree with me that in this instance, therapists can suck it.
I blame school, where I was taught to answer questions, to speak up, to be loud. Kids at the front of the room, head of the class, who know the answer, and who have nothing better to do than engage with adults — we were always taught to share our thoughts. And then we were rewarded for filling up the awkward silence.
I also blame board rooms, job interviews, and other heavy-on-the-judgement situations that encourage being the loudest, most impressive, bombastic, extraverted, rightest person in the room. If I were quiet, no one would know any of this, right?
Really, I need validation. Tell me I’m right or argue that I’m wrong just to keep the conversation going. Honestly, I’ve lobbed a question at you, which means you’re obligated to say something, anything. I don’t care if you change the subject or answer a question I’d never in a million years ask. Just speak. Because, you know, really … I hate dead air.
Silence is for chumps.