We've all felt it - the awkward silence. The conversation stops and you're unsure what to say and so is your conversation partner. It usually feels uneasy and you scramble to fill the void. Why is that? Why is it so hard to sit in and with that silence?
Looking each other in the eyes for longer than a few seconds is similar. The glance starts to turn into an inquiry, or provocation. Something loaded with meaning, an unspoken meaning, that's up to each of the participants to interpret.
What's challenging and creating the awkwardness is the uncertainty. Are you expecting me to say something? Am I expecting you to say something? Who is in charge or responsible for this conversation, holding the space, and making each of us feel safe, comfortable and heard – even in our silence. What is that unspoken void inferring? Not saying something is saying something too.
It brings out all of our insecurities and emphasizes the uncertainties we have about our expectations and each other. Are you challenging me to say something or am I leaving this gap for you to fill it with something revealing? Does it mean I don't agree with you, or that you don't like me or find what I said agreeable?
The interesting thing is that among family or close friends, it's a true sign of intimacy to just say nothing and be together. Not feel a sense of pressure to fill the void. To rest assured that you understand each other even without words. Silence becomes a form of trust. We can say nothing without judging each other or our relationship. We know each other well enough to understand our silence. Just because there is a void it doesn't mean our relationship is empty. Silence can be a provocation, a statement or a judgement but it can also be a sign of curiosity, appreciation, intimacy and trust.