On paper, the rule of the awkward silence is simple.
When you are faced with a challenging question, instead of immediately answering, pause and take the time to think deeply on how you want to answer.
And we’re not talking about a short pause here; you can wait five, 10 or even 15 seconds before answering, which can feel like a very long time. Go ahead and count them out now. Can you imagine a silence dragging on for that long following a question?
But the rule of awkward silence can be a great tool for critical thinking. What is critical thinking? Critical thinking is the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement.
Want to read more about it? Here are 13 examples of critical thinking, so you can identify them in your day and find other ways to practice critical thinking.
Critical thinking can help you to formulate deeper, more analytical and thoughtful answers to the questions, which in turn can help you to solve problems more effectively.
But there’s another benefit to the rule of awkward silences, and it is all to do with the way our brains process emotions.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand, identify and manage emotions and the rule of awkward silence is a great way to show you have it.
When it comes to calm and rational thinking, we typically engage a part of our brain known as the prefrontal cortex. But by contrast, when we feel attacked or under pressure, we engage another part of our brain, known as the amygdala, which tends to take over in an ‘emotional hijack’.
Professor Steve Peters talks at length about this topic in his book “The Chimp Paradox”. It is a fascinating read and one that we recommend.
Let us stress that this hijacking isn’t always a bad thing, as our emotions can help us get out of difficult situations and keep us safe.
It is when our emotions go unchecked that this can become a problem, when we say or do things during a hijack that we later come to regret.
It can be tempting when we need to answer a challenging question, to just spit out anything, even if it doesn’t make much sense. Or you might say what you think the other person wants to hear, rather than what you truly believe.
This can be unhelpful and harmful, across a myriad of levels. Would it not be better to take a few seconds to pause, think things through and then respond to the question in a way that you are proud of afterwards?
In a virtual training environment, or a virtual classroom, while it presents its own unique set of challenges, this silence when formulating an answer can be used by both participant and facilitator. Using the silence to formulate your answers will help you achieve a deeper understanding and give more effective answers.
So, the next time someone asks you a challenging question, try to take your time instead of rushing to give an answer. In doing so, you will:-
- Buy yourself some time to think
- Keep yourself calm
- Increase your confidence
- Produce better, more meaningful answers
- Keep yourself in the driver’s seat
- Say what you mean and mean what you say
It may feel awkward at first, of course, but the more you practice the technique, the less awkward the pause will feel. And the more you practice, the more you will be able to make your emotions work for you, instead of against you.