Your client has gone silent mid-interview. You awkwardly squirm. She just sits there. You have two options: either plow through the interview or figure out what's going on so you can adjust your approach. While you can't read her mind, situational clues might give you a hint about what she's thinking and help get the interview back on track.
If you and your client are negotiating terms for an important deal, the silence might be a tactic to put pressure on you. Silence is uncomfortable for many people. If you can't handle a reticent client, you might cave and offer more generous terms than you initially offered just to bring the awkwardness to an end. If this describes your situation, stand strong and hope the client changes tactics when she sees her reticence isn't working.
Another potential reason for your client's silence is less sinister: perhaps she is just thinking through her options. If so, give her as much time as she needs. Applying pressure might backfire. For instance, pushing for a quick response might annoy the client, causing her to make an unfavorable decision.
Drawing a Blank
Another possibility is that the client is drawing a blank. Discussing a complex scenario, for instance, might cause some people to panic when they realize they don't understand what's going on. If you think this might be the case, backtrack and simplify your position. Also, ask if any points need clarification.
Cultural factors might contribute to your client's reticence, according to the book "Understanding Generalist Practice," by Karen Kay Kirst-Ashman and Grafton H. Hull, Jr. Silence that is awkward for you might be respectful or meaningful to her. If you think this might be the case, accommodate your interview approach to respect her style of interaction.
If the situation is fraught with emotion -- for example, if you just gave your client some bad news about her financial situation -- she might be fighting an emotional reaction. Don't pressure her into emerging from her silence. Instead, give her time to compose herself. Change the subject to lighter matters or offer her a drink of water. Even if she isn't thirsty, she might accept your offer just so she can have some time alone.
There's no simple interview technique that will work for every client who goes silent. Rather, you must approach each situation differently, doing what you can to coax the client back into the conversation. For instance, ask some friendly questions. If nothing works, consider asking the client if she would like to reschedule the interview.
Stan Mack is a business writer specializing in finance, business ethics and human resources. His work has appeared in the online editions of the "Houston Chronicle" and "USA Today," among other outlets. Mack studied philosophy and economics at the University of Memphis.