How To Handle Awkward Silence In A Small Group

I recently posed the following question on Facebook and Twitter:

When you are leading a small group and you ask a question and no one responds how do you handle the situation?

The question launched an interesting discussion on the topic. For some leaders, it’s best just to smile and keep on going. Others try to answer the question themselves in order that someone will chime in. Still others advocate pausing, a reminder that silence isn’t just acceptable but beneficial particularly when a thought-provoking question is being asked.

One leader suggested rephrasing the question, and waiting through the silence. If no one speaks up, the leader will share a transparent story from their own life knowing that the honestly and vulnerability often provokes a response.

I thought all the ideas and suggestions were helpful, and depending on the group, highly effective. I know that when I’m leading a discussion I’ve learned to make silence a friend. Sometimes it’s hard. In the process of asking a question sometimes I feel like I’m putting myself out there, and when I’m met with silence, I tend to squirm uncomfortably. But if I take a deep breath and count to ten, someone usually speaks up.

The ace card that I always keep in my back pocket and am not afraid to use (though some leader’s don’t like it) is simply calling on people by name as in, “Mark, what do you think about this?” If it’s an easy or what I call an “all-play” question, meaning something that’s not threatening and almost anyone would have an opinion on, then I’ll call on the newer or more reserved members of the group.

But if it’s a deeper, stump-ya kind of question, then I’ll only call on veteran members of the group who won’t be embarrassed or even bothered if they don’t have an answer.

So what advice do you have on how to handle the awkward silence that sometimes happens in a small group?