How to deal with awkward silences

26 Sep 2019
By Rob Slade, Writer at Unite Students

If there is one thing I remember clearly from my first week at uni, it was the awkward silences. Moving into a flat full of strangers, I was excited to make a group of new friends, but this doesn’t always happen overnight.

I walked into my flat expecting to hit it off with my flatmates straight away, but it actually took a bit of time and a handful of awkward silences for us to really become comfortable around each other.

You’re bound to experience a few awkward silences in your time at university, but there are ways to deal with them. Here’s my advice.

What you should do

Find common ground

I’m almost 100% sure that you’ll have something in common with every other person that you’ll meet at uni, and if you end up in an awkward silence, this is the time to find out what it is. Did you grow up in the same city? Did you both go travelling in the summer? Do you share an unhealthy obsession with Game of Thrones?

There are so many topics you can ask about, you just need to find a few that you have in common. Finding common interests not only helps you avoid awkward silences, but it can also plant the seed for friendship to blossom. If you’re both fans of, say, football, drama, or photography, why not join a society together?

Try the FORD method

It’s only after uni that I actually heard about this technique, but I wish I knew about it in those first few weeks. The FORD method is used by salespeople to build relationships with their clients, and you can use it to help do the same with your new flatmates. Here’s how it works.

You need to ask questions about your flatmates’ family, occupation, recreation and dreams. Your fellow students are probably not going to be working, so occupation might be one to avoid, but asking about family and what your flatmates like to do in their spare time (recreation) is a good start. Just remember, if the other person is doing most of the talking, you’re doing a great job.

Ask open questions and be an active listener

This is something that journalists and news reporters are very good at. If you find that one of your flatmates has an interest in football, for example, asking who they support is a closed question that is likely to result in a very short answer. Whereas, if you ask them their opinion on a controversial match from the weekend, you’re likely to receive a much longer answer and the start of a discussion.

Active listening also plays a big part in helping conversations flow. If you listen carefully to what your flatmate is saying, you should be able to follow up with relevant questions about what they’ve said that’ll encourage them to talk more.

Tackle awkward silences head on

Sometimes, no matter how many questions you ask or how hard you try to make conversation, you end up in an awkward silence. It happened to me. Many times. How did I deal with it? Well, I decided they weren’t awkward silences, they were just part of getting to know someone.

I accepted them for what they were and chose not to feel bad or dwell on them. Better yet, make a joke about the situation. The other person is probably feeling exactly the same, so having a laugh about an awkward silence is a great way to put everyone at ease.


What you shouldn’t do

Don’t hide

The worst thing you can do is hide away. You’ll only be delaying the awkward silences and will have to face them at some point. If you do wait, you also run the risk that some of your flatmates will move on from that awkward stage without you. Instead, be brave, be bold, and step outside of your comfort zone.

Don’t panic

Awkward silences are normal. They’re nothing to worry about and they aren’t unique to you, so try not to panic. I’ve done this before, worrying about the silence and blurting out a random question. I had a few strange looks.

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Rob is a writer at Unite Students.