Here’s a workplace communication challenge that I received recently. Do you relate or know someone who also faces this challenge? Read and share my response.
Dear Marion, I came across your article on communication and interruption. Sometimes when I am with two-three people I overtalk people without realizing they are not liking it and also sometimes I speak too much even what is not required. I am losing my good friends and contacts. I feel so bad and have no idea how to change my bad habit and be a more mature person.
Signed, Charlie (from Australia)
Charlie, good for you for recognizing your communication challenge and your role in it. You have a situation that many people experience. In fact, people searching for ways to handle “interrupting” is one of the #1 reasons people find me on the internet. It’s a common problem!
STEP 1: Acknowledge YOUR role in perpetuating the situation
You’ve already taken the first step in changing a bad habit — you acknowledge the behavior that isn’t serving you well. You show great responsibility and maturity in this awareness and your willingness to seek out solutions. Here are some steps that will help you on your way to smoother communications.
STEP 2: Feel the pain.
Before you change your behavior, I want you to feel the pain. That’s right. I said, “feel the pain”. Wrap your head around all the BAD things your interrupting is bringing you. Here’s some that you’ve mentioned:
- other people don’t like it (it does nothing to build relationships)
- you are losing good friends (your support group is shrinking)
- you are losing contacts (business and otherwise)
- you feel bad about your losses and yourself
- you feel responsible and don’t know what to do
Feel the pain of what you’re losing. Imagine your world without all these benefits. Let the loss wash over you, envelope you, usurp you. Feel it in every fiber of your body. What would this world you’ve described look like, feel like, be like? Get in that moment.
Remember the times when you’ve tasted the unfavorable response of others from your behavior. Think about the expressions on their faces when you interrupt, that hint of impatience, frustration, or even anger. Imagine your world without those friends, business colleagues, relationships, and support networks. Carry the scenario to the extreme. In the worst-case scenario, what would this reality look like? Feel like? Be like?
If it hurts — fantastic! The more it pains you, the more REAL the consequences of your current behavior become, and the more likely you are to change. Here’s the reality: You control 100% of your behavior. No one else. You create your own reality. The good news about that is that you have the power to change your reality. You can do this. But how? Read on.
STEP 3: Think of the gain.
Now, focus on the gain, what you’ll get when you change your behavior. What’s your ideal? What types of relationships do you really want? How do you see yourself interacting with others? What do they think about you? How do they treat you and you treat them? What does it feel like, sound like, look like? Put yourself into the moment.
Feel the warmth of productive and respectful exchanges with colleagues, friends, and family. Think about how they admire you and your ability to communicate so well. Ponder, for a moment, the amazing feeling of being in control and getting the outcomes you really want and deserve. Feels good? If you want it bad enough, you can stack the deck in your favor to make it a reality.
STEP 4: Change the behaviour.
OK, so now you have really good reasons and incentives to change your behavior. Hang on to the pain and gain because they will keep you motivated to change when you waiver. You know that what you’re currently doing isn’t working for you. It’s not serving you or others well, and you’re paying a high price for it. You want to stop interrupting, but how?
Here are some tips to help you stop interrupting others.
Acknowledge your intent.
Sure, you’re interrupting — but are you doing it deliberately to irritate? The answer is likely, “no”. Make that a “hell, no”. Quite to the contrary. You may well be coming from a place of respect and enthusiasm. The challenge comes in that people express these things differently. To some, it comes out as listening attentively with no response or comment at all (which can be equally offputting to some).
Conversely, others express this by jumping into the conversation with two feet, often talking over others. In an attempt to show someone that they are so on the same wavelength, “interrupters” will sometimes complete other people’s sentences. It’s not meant as disrespectful. Actually, it’s intended as a sign of being actively engaged. It’s is rarely received as such.
The point: You’re not interrupting to distance yourself from others. In fact, your objective is quite to the contrary–you want to connect. Interrupting is a communication pattern you may innately have and, when not in check, it doesn’t work for you.
Focus on their message, not yours.
Instead of thinking about what YOU want to say next, put your full attention on the person speaking. Spend all your energy absorbing the information they’re sharing. Allow them to finish their thought, to complete their sentences. Remember — to be interesting, be interested.
Let your body communicate interest.
Change your body language to communicate that you are actively engaged and in listen or “receive” mode. That means, maintain eye contact, lean slightly forward to the person talking, tilt your head gently to the side, nod acknowledgment (which doesn’t necessarily mean agreement, just that you heard them), and point your feet and shoulders in their direction. People can’t read your mind and know that you’re really interested — they can only read your body. So make sure your body shouts, “I’m listening”.
Be a detective.
Instead of interrupting, ask questions. Wait until they’ve completed their thought and talk a pause for breath. Then, jump in with a question about what they just said. Ask for clarification. Ask when, how, what, why and who. Doing so demonstrates great listening and that you are genuinely interested in what they have to say.
If you find the temptation to interrupt incredible, be mindful of that. When you feel that “I want to interrupt” sensation bubbling up inside you, take a slow, deep breath instead. Literally and lightly (please), bite down on the tip of your tongue as a gentle reminder to hold tight. You’ll have a chance to talk … after they’re done.
If you slip and interrupt mid-sentence, stop yourself and say to them, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt. I really do want to hear what you have to say. Please continue”. You’re human. It’s OK not to be perfect. It’s not a matter of “if” you’ll slip up, it’s “when”. When you do, commend yourself for realizing it — then apologize and resume listening.
A word of caution
It’s true that you control your actions and that when you change your responses, you change the “dance” and responses of others. When you behave differently, you get different results. This being said, it’s not without a word of caution that I remind you that you don’t control how other people behave.
Most people will appreciate your effort to curb your interrupting and, with time, will forge a new relationship with you. However, there are always some people who are not willing to change their opinion of you. They are stuck in a negative perception that they refuse to give up.
This is your invitation to “let it go”.
You can change yourself, you can do the right and productive thing, and if people choose to accept that gift, it’s up to them. Some will not. Remember that their refusal speaks more about them than it does about you. Applaud yourself for stepping up, and then move away. Let it go.
I jokingly remind my clients facing the communication challenge of wanting to stop interrupting others that you have two ears and one mouth for a reason: You are meant to listen more than you talk. If you want to really connect with others, learn to actively listen better and it will transform your relationships.
Start the changes now.
Begin with how you think. That’s your homework. Once you’ve done that, use the hands-on steps above to actually alter the behavior, and when you do, I assure you, your friends, family, and colleagues will notice the difference. And so will you.
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Originally posted ©2013 Marion Grobb Finkelstein
©2022 Marion Grobb Finkelstein (MarionSpeaks)
Marion Grobb Finkelstein
Keynote Speaker / Corporate Trainer / Author
Recipient of APEX “Award for Leadership in Service Innovation”
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