Embracing Pauses over Perfection
How many of you freak out when there is a pause in a conversation? If you answered yes to this question, I’m right there with you. For me, silence and pauses result in tense muscles and shaking lips. When there is silence, thoughts stream through my mind: I don’t think he likes me, what am I supposed to say??, is the conversation over already?!. Throughout the conversation, I pay more attention to my jumbled thoughts and restlessness than to the other person. I try to re-focus on him or her. But I soon find myself swimming in a pool of thoughts again. This cycle results in self-absorption and wasted worry energy.
Let me illustrate with an example: One afternoon during my junior year of college, I met up with a girl in my bible study for the first time. As I made an effort to get to know her, I focused my energy on keeping the conversation going. “How many siblings do you have? What classes are you taking? I this. . .I that.” There was barely any room to breathe. There was not a lot of room for her to get to know me. I led myself to believe that it was my fault if there was a pause in the conversation. I thought I had to fill the space. Though I appeared calm, cool, and collected, my legs were crossed so tight that my bottom leg was vibrating. And I was slouching over as my neck muscles tensed up. At the end of the conversation, I barely remembered what she shared. Instead, I replayed the conversation in worry mode.
I am here to tell you that silence in conversations is natural and normal. Conversation is an exchange, not a test or a performance (even interviews!). Very recently, I started begun to embrace the silence. Here are some tips that help me:
1. Phone calls: Going for a walk helps process your thoughts more clearly. When there is a pause, you can take in the beautiful tree next to you or wave at a passerby.
2. In person: You can give the person a smile, even if it’s an awkward smile.
Remember that the conversation is not all on nor all about you! Sit back, breathe, listen, and marvel in the exchange. Hone in on the beautiful truth that you have the opportunity to communicate with another human person!
How do you feel when there are periods of silence in conversation? Do welcome pauses in conversations or do they feel uncomfortable? What are tips that have helped in the past with lulls in conversation?