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Stop interrupting

Nov 4, 2015

You are explaining something, perhaps answering a question, and whilst you are talking, someone jumps in, cuts you off, and asks another question or makes a comment. As a result, you likely lose your train of thought, the argument you were making falls apart and you end up feeling frustrated or even worse, foolish.
If this scenario sounds familiar, stop and think if you are perhaps doing exactly that to other people when they talk.

I believe most interruptions are not intended to be malicious. In most cases, they are an expression of a person’s eagerness to participate in a discussion and a desire to bring their own views to the fore. The problem is that the person being interrupted does not make such allowances and simply finds it irritating not to be allowed to complete a sentence or an explanation.

I know that there are cultural differences on this subject and therefore you may not see this as an issue. However, in the main, interrupting others when they speak is considered rude. It is sending a signal that you think that what you have to say is more important than what another has to say. The speaker would feel that you are not listening to understand what they talk about, but you are only listening to decide what you want to say.

I have sometimes resorted to making this comment: “If you had let me finish what I was about to say, you would have had the answer to your question”. You can imagine how the general mood just sinks to below freezing point from this exchange. This is a lose – lose situation. No one is happy.

There is a very simple way of avoiding this: Shut up, say nothing, wait until the person speaking has finished. Then ask your question or make your comment.

When you have listened to the whole thing, your questions will actually be more intelligent and relevant, which in turn puts you in a far better and more positive light.

The person who spoke feels respected for having been listened to and he or she will value you and your questions/comments more.

Communication is a difficult discipline, not least because you have to be disciplined to make it work. People will love you for asking insightful questions, but you can only do that if you listen without interrupting when a thought pops up in your head. The thought that pops up will stay there – trust your memory – and the thought may even prove to be irrelevant when you keep listening therefore making a potential interrupting comment unnecessary.

This is about self-awareness. You may not realise that you are the interrupting kind. You can find out by asking a good friend, family member, or colleague how they think you are doing in terms of interrupting when others speak.

Another way is to observe body language and tone of voice during conversations and discussions. If you notice things like tensing of the body, eyes turning to the ceiling, loud sighing, a sharpening of the voice when responding, or someone simply stopping speaking mid-sentence when you interrupt and refusing to go on until you have given permission, you will know that you have stepped on somebody’s toes by interrupting them.

Next time when you feel the urge to jump in with a comment or a question, STOP, say nothing and see what happens. It is actually quite easy and you become so loved and respected for it, which in turn makes you feel better about yourself.
 
If you want to read a book on this subject, I can recommend, “Shut up and listen, the truth about how to communicate at work” by Theobald and Cooper. What they cover in this book applies outside work as well.
 
As always, if you want to make changes in your life and you struggle to get on with it on your own, feel free to contact me, without obligation, to find out if coaching would be a way forward.

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"I could always rely on Peter to ask a thought provoking question that stimulated my own reasoning and thought process. Coaching has been a very positive experience and I feel I am better equipped to manage my work environment and myself." LC