We’ve all been there—stuck in a cyclical or even stagnant moment of conversation. It’s an uncomfortable moment for anyone, but even more unnerving when you’re the one facilitating the talk. Throughout my experience in leading a group of twenty-somethings, I’ve come to realize that a hiccup in communication is inevitable.
But I’ve also realized it’s not our job to fear these moments; it’s our job to expect them. Once we shift to this mindset, we can focus on equipping ourselves with strategies to navigate stuck conversations. Let’s begin with three of my favorites for getting conversations un-stuck. For a more in-depth guide to having life-changing conversations, download this free e-book.
Be Flexible and Listen
Be attuned to where the conversation is flowing. Often we get stuck because we have a direction we think the talk should go in, but like driving, there are often several ways to get somewhere. Be open to the fact that your route may not be the one that works for the whole group’s conversation. Listen carefully to where an individual may be comfortable talking, and let that be the momentum you use to steer the discussion.
Ask Follow-Up Questions
The fact of the matter is, people like to talk about themselves. And this doesn’t make them egomaniacs—it’s just a comfortable topic for most people. So when the conversation gets stuck, ask a follow-up question about something that person said. For instance, “How did that experience affect you?” It will become obvious what topics an individual enjoys talking about. Keep going to those sweet spots until you can navigate the awkward lull. Finally, avoid any questions that lead to one-word answers. Instead, use engaging questions like those in the Talk It Over guide.
Be Patient in Silence
Sometimes people just need a moment to process what’s being said, and that results in short times of silence. This isn’t something to be terrified of. Quiet moments are natural and allow individuals to formulate their next contribution to the conversation. Be patient and learn to recognize when a conversation has gotten stuck versus when it may just be taking a breather before heading off in a great, new direction.
So, What Now?
You can expect these approaches will help navigate moments of getting stuck. But there will still be curveballs thrown your way. Cut yourself some slack, too. There’s no substitute for experience. It just takes time and practice, and in my experience, patience and persistence in communication win out over perfection any day.