An awkward silence is a moment between two or more people in which there is a lack of conversation or communication which is uncomfortable in nature. This can occur as a result of a number of different stimuli, though it is typically due to some type of inappropriate comment or social faux pas. An awkward silence can produce feelings of anxiety or distress in those involved, especially the person or people who may have caused the silence. This is in contrast to comfortable silences, in which two or more people are able to exist together without communication and all parties involved feel a sense of ease or comfort in the silence.
The exact cause of an awkward silence can vary a great deal from instance to instance, though there typically is some type of trigger for the silence. It is possible, however, for such a silence to simply occur on its own, such as between two people who do not share much in common and have little to talk about. An awkward silence is often caused by a particular event or comment, however, and this is usually a result of someone saying something inappropriate. If a person says something negative about a particular group of people, for example, unaware that the listener belongs to that group, then this may cause such a silence.
When an awkward silence does occur, it can often result in feelings of inadequacy or anxiety in those involved. This is especially true when the silence is caused by the comments or attitude of one particular person in a group or conversation. Some researchers speculate that the anxiety and distress felt during an awkward silence may be tied to instinctual attitudes toward group acceptance. During the primitive youth of humanity, a lack of acceptance by a large group could leave an individual open to attack or starvation; modern anxiety over acceptance may stem from vestigial instincts based on these survival needs.
While an awkward silence may be the result of poorly chosen words or a hostile attitude between two or more people, there are also comfortable silences that can occur in groups. A group of very close friends, or two people in a long-term, healthy relationship may experience such silences. These often indicate closeness between those involved, as each person feels accepted enough to withstand a lack of communication without experiencing the anxiety triggered by an awkward silence. The difference between these two states may be indistinguishable from outside the group, but it is vital for those in such a relationship to feel comfortable with their place in a group.