What To Say When You Don't Know What To Say

Here you are: so confident, collected, and ready to start a conversation. You know exactly what you’re going to say; it’s a no brainer! There are so many subjects to discuss, it’s seemingly impossible to mess up. All you have to do is-- Oh no, you blanked. Now what?

Now, you recall a vital skill in communication: how to think on your feet. Here’s a guide for what to say when you’re suddenly stuck--you’ll never be tongue tied again!

First, do not panic. You’ve already stopped speaking, so getting frustrated with yourself will only make things worse. It’s important to not show any signs of upset, as the person you’re with might become uncomfortable and not want to pursue the conversation. To combat panic, try to crack a smile! A smile is universal and non-verbal, so it’s the perfect remedy if you freeze up. So, slap on a grin: you’ll buy yourself some quick thinking time while improving the mood!

Note that there is no need to apologize. Embarrassed because you forgot someone’s name? Turn it into a friendly utterance. Instead of saying something like, “Oh, I’m so sorry. What’s your name again?” Try a question with more confidence such as “Could you remind me of your name?”. This way, the person you’re speaking with doesn’t see you feeling any guilt. In fact, you shouldn’t feel remorseful at all; everyone forgets things sometimes. Realize that it’s perfectly normal to blank out, and that you can recover without a big verbal apology!  

Remember that half of a conversation is listening, meaning it is equally important to internalize information as it is to verbally exchange it. Don’t feel inclined to comment on all of the other person’s ideas. It’s a good idea to take the words in first, and then determine if it’s a good moment to respond. With responses, it’s important to note that you have more time than you assume! In the instances when you think you’re stuck and don’t know how to reply, it’s possible that you just haven’t considered the information long enough. Don’t be afraid to take a moment to think. The person you’re communicating with would much rather you speak insightfully because you thought it over, rather than rush to reply. For example, if someone finishes telling a story and is looking for your comments, let it fly! However, if you’re being vented to, sometimes people need more time to get all of their thoughts out. Make sure to confirm a story or rant is over before jumping in with your own ideas; interruptions destroy train of thought which can potentially upset your conversation partner.

Realize that it’s perfectly okay to laugh at yourself. A partner in conversation would much rather laugh with you than see you stare awkwardly at the ground or struggle to respond. If a subject is brought up that you don’t know much about, it’s completely fine to admit that you aren’t familiar with it! You can’t be expected to know about everything, which is definitely worth a chuckle. Being honest about your understanding will avoid you getting involved with a topic that you can’t add much to, and will keep the subject matter within a comfortable range of knowledge.