How to stop interrupting
Think about your life – at what point is your life not dominated by interruption?
You wake up – you lift your phone from its resting place (no doubt by your bed) and it pings with a message or notice. Within 5 minutes of waking up, you’ve been interrupted. You’re having a quiet moment to yourself, when your partner interrupts your thoughts with a question about who’s doing the domestic chores today.View all articles
You’ve been interrupted! You’re telling your friend about something important that’s happened to you, and she interrupts to give her perspective on the situation. At work you head into or onto a meeting and as you’re making a contribution, someone else talks over you. We live in a world of perpetual interruption and that’s before considering and owning up to our own naughty habits!
Interruption is the blight of good social discourse. It is the fly in the ointment of good negotiation and it’s certainly a blocker to maintaining healthy and happy relationships.
As humans we have somehow become so used to interrupting that doing anything else feels rather alien – or at least trying to do something different requires extraordinary effort. Even the quiet among us are interrupting – the interruption just happens to be inside their heads rather than out in the open.
Are you interested in listening?
In so many scenarios playing out across our working day - with colleagues, family and friends - there seems to be a genuine miss on active listening.
We’re not talking about the type of listening that happens when you nod and smile at someone while working out what you want to say next (considering the best time to interrupt). We’re talking about genuine, deep, heartfelt listening – no questions, no judgements, no interruptions – just concentration.
Allowing a person to be fully heard is quite a skill. It requires the following commitments:
- To actively listen
- To absolutely not speak until the other person has nothing else to say on the matter at hand.
- To only check in afterward to ensure the message sent, was the message received.
The benefits of not interrupting
Imagine a world where we truly allowed others into this space. What might be different?
- We might actually hear and understand someone’s full opinion.
- We’d feel heard ourselves when it was our turn to speak.
- Our social relationships would improve because we feel properly heard.
- We might negotiate and influence better because we are not judging or filling in the blanks.
We think it sounds like a pretty special world to live in – to be heard and understood and to do the same for others. But getting good at not interrupting is a fine art. It takes incredible restraint, patience and courage. Here’s why:
Restraint. To not interrupt you must regulate your emotions. You must be able to stay calm and be willing to hear someone out, even if you disagree with their viewpoint. That requires you to hold back any opinions you’re dying to put out there!
Patience. Not interrupting to let others speak requires you to give up airtime for as long as is needed – and that might be longer than you have or thought was required. Chances are the conversation will take more time. Without patience and a willingness to give up your time in service of someone else, you’re unlikely to be successful.
Courage. Allowing others to speak takes bravery and a degree of risk-taking. It risks your opinion being modified by what you hear. You may start out thinking you are absolutely sure of your point of view. By not interrupting, truly absorbing someone else’s opinion, you may end up giving up your deeply rooted position. Accepting that shift, can be personally de-stabilising.
So, what can you do to try interrupting just a little bit less?
1. Pick a non-contentious ‘no interruption’ topic to practice on. That way if your opinion is modified it won’t feel too uncomfortable.
2. Let the other person know what you are doing. People might be surprised when you remain quiet or encourage more talking (on their part), so explain why you think it’s important and that you would like them to hear you out equally!
In a world of interruption, sound bites, opinions and fake news, learning to actively listen and avoid interruption could not only save relationships, it could define a better standard to live by.