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3 Ways To Overcome Long, Awkward Silences When Asking A Question

Remember at school when the teacher asked the class a question and more often than not a soul would dare to raise their hand to speak? One of the most common complaints team leaders make is asking a question and getting a “zombie response”. There’s nothing more discouraging than asking a group of people for their thoughts or opinions on something only to receive nothing but dreaded silence. 

I want to help you get your team talking so your future projects and meetings run smoothly and effectively, so in this article, I show you 3 ways you can overcome long, awkward silences when asking a question to your team. 

1. Understand the silence

What do you think of or feel when there are long pauses of silence in a conversation? 

The answer to that question will change depending on who you ask and where you are in the world. In some cultures, long pauses of silence are often viewed as uncomfortable and awkward. We let out a sigh of relief the second someone pulls up the courage to break it. However, in other cultures, silence can mean something else. It can be seen as a sign of thinking or deep thought. Silence isn’t considered as a negative thing and is appreciated as well as respected in a conversation

When faced with long-pauses of silence, try to understand why the silence occurs in the first place. Remember to never assume the reason for the silence is because no-one knows what to say. Instead, question the reason for it occurring in the first place and what you can do or change to keep the conversation flowing.

So what should you do the next time you encounter this situation? 

2. Wait it out

When faced with long pauses of silence after asking a question or to gather thoughts and ideas, try your best to just wait it out. As difficult as it sounds, it’s best to just wait for someone to break the ice than you answering the question for them. Imagine a teacher at a secondary school who asks the class a question and gets no response, so she waits a few seconds before giving in and answering the question for them. What message do you think that sends out to the students in the class?

It actually teaches the students that all questions are rhetorical by nature and that their participation isn’t obligatory or needed. They know that they don’t have to think because they learn that the teacher just ends up answering the questions for them. And the same happens in the workplace as well. Employees and colleagues develop this mindset each time you end up answering your own question.

3. Have a practice run

People are generally more inclined to share their thoughts and opinions with the group once they’ve had a chance to speak about them already

What do you do as a last resort when you actually give them that extra time to respond and you still aren’t getting any response? Instead of you answering the question for them, have them do a practice run in pairs where they talk about their thoughts and opinions on the question asked.

After 2 minutes, regroup and then go around asking different people to give their feedback on what they and their partner discussed.

People are generally more inclined to share their thoughts and opinions with the group once they’ve had a chance to speak about them already. Although practice runs may be seen as time-consuming and somewhat extreme, they’re a great way to get people talking who refuse to participate from the get-go. 


Getting people talking and engaging is difficult, especially when you’re working with someone who is on the other side of the world and has just finished a 10-hour shift! But by understanding different people’s perception of silence, avoiding the urge to answer the question for them, and having practice runs can really help teams start talking. If you’d like to learn more about ways you can become a better communicator in the workplace, download my free communication guide/cheat sheet here: https://ascommunications.wixsite.com/guide