At a lost for words?
Find yourself blanking out?
Does your brain freeze up in conversation?
It’s no big deal. Your brain needs time to acclimate, that’s all.
This article will examine how the mind blanks and the ways to deal with it.
Brain Cramps Galore
Introverts have a propensity for introspection, so it’s no surprise they are prone to freezing in conversations.
Our minds process external stimuli, reorient around our circumstances/beliefs, plan a course of action and execute. Introverts like to think, and conversation is no different.
Conversation requires an abrupt response time. It takes time to produce an answer, especially if the topic is overwhelming.
I know some people will respond with, “just say what’s on your mind!”. This never helps anyone in the middle of blanking out.
And don’t equate unfamiliarity with blanking out either. It doesn’t matter how familiar with the environment you are, any unfamiliar shock requires some adaptation.
But, when does the shock occur? When is the likelihood of blanking out the most highest? In a conversation, only 3 scenarios occur that freeze you.
1. In the beginning of a conversation
2. In the middle of a conversation
3. In the middle of a response
Not too surprising, right?
The 1st Scenario
At the beginning of a conversation, we can be jolted into a conversational mindset. Consider this scenario:
You are looking at phones in a store. You are contemplating which to buy when, suddenly, an associate blurts out behind you:
“Can I help you with anything?”
This is an easy scenario to imagine because it happens to all of us.
But, what I’m emphasizing is the transition.
You are contemplating; then, somebody pulls you out of your thoughtful state into a conversational one.
It takes time to transition. The freeze happens as your mind moves from one topic to another.
You also don’t have to be in a previous mindset. You could be minding your own business and somebody initiates a conversation. That’ll scramble your brain for a bit as it warms up.
The 2nd Scenario
The other scenario is in the middle of a conversation.
Our minds are juggling multiple thoughts. It is also formulating an idea.
The other speaker finishes speaking and asks for a response.
What does the response consist of?
Your experience, knowledge, and other categories.
Then, we have to fit these ideas into a coherent sentence(how you say something is as important as what you say).
The mind blanks. Can you imagine repeating for every reply?
It’s no wonder introverts are so tired.
The 3rd Scenario
Sometimes, your mind blanks in the middle of your response.
The words flow from your lips until the valve shuts off.
Now, you have a half-finished sentence describing a half-fleshed idea.
Meanwhile, your brain is blanking out and the listener is hoping you won’t end your sentence on a preposition.
In this scenario, your mouth could be firing at 200 words a minute and your mind is trying to keep pace.
Or, your train of thought derails and you can’t remember your next choice of words.
So what do we do?
How would we overcome this deficiency?
We buy time.
Time Is Of The Essence
So, your mind blanks.
Stall for time.
You need to allow your brain to process information. At the same time, you need to keep the conversation flowing while you transition.
Silence isn’t the end of the world but reserve it for dire circumstances as it’s not a tool to be used often. So what can you do? Here are 5 techniques I use to stall for time.
Pauses are a great way to stall because it indicates deep thought.
To the speaker, you are in deep thought. In fact, depending on your personality, it may be preferable to the other techniques.
Pauses should be 1-3 seconds long; I consider silence 3+ seconds.
1-3 seconds is perfect for preparing a response or gathering your thoughts.
Bob: “What do you think about that statue?”
You: “…I think it is a wonderful statue.”
“I think… it is a wonderful statue.”
Introverts will stand out with this technique because it’s not popular as others on the list. Few people are comfortable with brief pauses.
You’ve heard them before but don’t consciously acknowledge it.
Sounds like, “umm” or “hmm” would categorize as filler sounds.
Filler sounds are vocal pauses.
It informs the listener you are contemplating and a response will follow. The sounds indicate you are responsive and conscious of the on-going conversation.
Bob: “Where would you like to go today?”
You: “Hmm, how ‘bout that new shop down the road?”
Bob: “Where would you like to go today?”
You: “There’s a new shop, but, ahhh, I think it might be too expensive.”
You’d be surprise how often filler sounds are used.
Nobody minds, so feel free to use it.
Not too freely, though.
Don’t draw out the sound too long or you’ll sound like a Buddhist monk.
Filler words give the illusion of continuation.
Instead of indescribable noises, you are disguising pause.
The benefit of filler words is that almost any words work.
Words such as, “well”, and “interesting” acknowledge the speaker’s words with the implicit agreement of a response.
Bob: “I could go for some fast food.”
You: “Well, you need to watch your weight.”
Bob: “I think Harvey’s is pretty good.”
You: “Wait, I know a better place.”
I would advise not to stack filler words together (i.e more than 1 in the same sentence) as it becomes obvious you are stalling.
When the mind blanks, filler sentences shoulder the load.
It is as it sounds.
A sentence possessing explicit meaning for the speaker, yet carries little-to-0 implicit meaning.
I’m sure you all know of one person who speaks plenty but says nothing of substance. Take a page out of their play book.
“That’s an interesting point there, Bob.”
“I never thought of it that way.”
Something, yet nothing.
Interesting to note, you could stack multiple filler sentences together (ever listen to a politician?). However, your partner will catch on and ask for a real reply.
Let Them Be Filler
People love talking and introverts should let them. Urge them to keep the conversation going. Not explicitly as in, “Please keep talking.”, but subtle methods. My favorite is to ask the speaker for clarification:
Bob: “Don’t you think she is beautiful?”
You: “Depends what you mean by “beautiful”.
This shows you want to add to the conversation, but want to be sure about context/specifics. You could ask them for their thoughts before giving yours.
Bob: “Who did you think won that fight?”
You: “I’m not really sure yet. What about you?”
Obviously, you can’t use that if he already gave you a reply, but you could ask him to elaborate on his reasoning(“why did you think he won that fight?”).
Just remember, this is a conversation, and eventually you should have a response at the end of theirs.
These are the techniques I’ve used to squeeze every second for my brain. Next, I’d like to go over some tips.
Here are some ideas to think about in conjunction with the 5 techniques above.
Mix it up
Don’t rely on one technique all the time.
Brain cramps can strike multiple times in one sitting.
Become familiar with 2 or 3 of the filler techniques and use them interchangeably.
If you used filler pause the previous sentence, use sounds the next one. It keeps the other person focused on the content of your words rather than patterns that form. It keeps them in the conversation matrix. For example,
Bob: “What did you think of Anna?”
You: “Hmm, I thought she was lovely.”
Bob: “Would you date her?”
You: “…Would you?”
The last sentence of dialogue is an interesting one because it leads me into my next tip.
If you find yourself in desperate need of more seconds ( > 5 seconds), combine techniques to buy more time. Combine 2 (or even 3) and place them beside each other or spread them throughout the sentence.
Bob: “Imagine if humanity goes extinct from covid-19?”
You: “Huh…..Now there’s a thought.”
You could make your sentences longer, but at some point, you’ll hit diminishing returns and the extra effort won’t be worth it.
Your brain shouldn’t be operating at capacity to buy time. If you tried your best, and your brain implodes, the only thing to do would be to…..
Sometimes, your brain shuts down. In that case, please dial 911.
For those reading this figuratively, you tried to stall your best but your mind blanks.
There’s a certain dread inside as you realize your efforts can’t stave off the approaching awkwardness. Hell, my job interviews are proof.
If this is the case, being upfront route is refreshingly honest. I even have a canned lines for it.
“I’ve lost my train of thought.”
“It was on the tip of my tongue.”
These types of lines show vulnerability, but everybody has that side to them.
No one is going to be a dick about it. Note that, your honesty will temporary disrupt the conversation matrix.
Be honest and go back to gathering your thoughts.
Honesty is your one ‘get out of jail’ card. I would limit it to ONCE per conversation with the same person. If you keep using it, they will think you are disoriented, socially inept, or possess Alzheimer’s.
Blanking out can be common amongst introverts, but don’t let it stifle you. As you practice conversation over time, these aberrations decline.
However, it still takes us by surprise whenever it happens, so fall back on the filler techniques.
They give you just enough time to compose yourself and keep talks going.
They’re easy to remember and simple to execute.
They’re versatile and can be practiced, even alone!
With these tools in your arsenal, I hope fear of brain cramps becomes a distant memory for you.
He was admired for never being at a loss for words and never wasting any either.Garrison Keillor