In this episode, we talk about awkward silences, why we think they happen, how we can stop them happening and whether we should stop them happening at all. We try and understand why we're more comfortable with some people than others, and why car journeys and sleepovers are a great source of deep conversation and human connection.

Some of the highlights from our discussion:

Conversations are always going to have silences. This may seem like a very obvious statement but it’s one we quickly forget when we are in the midst of a conversation. We should learn to accept natural silences as they are. Taimur discusses how he feels that silences are a sign that he’s not providing any value to the conversation and how we often feel we need to fill silences when in actual fact, silences are a natural part of conversation.

Context can make a significant difference to how comfortable we feel with silences. We discuss how silence on a car journey can be easier to cope with not only because you’re facing each other directly but also due to the low optionality (see episode 3 for more talk about optionality). A silence between two people talking at a drinks party, on the other hand, can become awkward within seconds, especially if you’re not familiar with the person you are talking to.

Conversational hacks can help to ease the tension and enable conversations to flow more easily. Intonations and making statements rather than asking banal questions can help to enable better connections between people. However, conversational hacks aren’t always useful – Taimur suggests that sometimes facing the inevitable lulls without resorting to hacks can be the best way of ensuring a more sustainable conversation.

Having a collective distraction or a shared activity can help to create a cohesive bond and make subsequent social interactions easier. We see this with people playing sport before meeting up for a drink or going to the cinema before going out for dinner. The connections that are made subconsciously by sharing in the same activity can help make later conversations easier to manage.


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What is this? Not Overthinking is a podcast about happiness, creativity, and the human condition. We talk about things to help us think, do, and be better. Things like social interaction, lifestyle design, mental models...things that are hard to examine, but important to explore. And hopefully, things that make for a fun and interesting chat every week.


Follow Not Overthinking on Twitter: https://twitter.com/noverthinking.

Who are we?

Ali is a junior doctor and YouTuber working in Cambridge, UK. He makes videos about medicine, technology, productivity and lifestyle design. His links: YouTube, Blog, Newsletter, Instagram

Taimur is a data scientist and writer, working on his own startup Causal. He writes on his blog and as a columnist for Medium. His links: Blog, Twitter, Medium, Instagram