“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
-Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
One of my biggest pet peeves is also one of my own worst habits: interrupting people. I usually do it inadvertently — I think a person has finished speaking and I jump in with whatever is on my mind, only to cut them off in the process. It comes from a place of engagement and wanting to contribute to the conversation, but it’s rude and gives the impression that I’m not interested in what the other person has to say. In an effort to break myself of this habit, I’ve scoured the internet for the best advice on how to stop interrupting people and become a better listener. Here’s a roundup of what I found.
- “Catch yourself. Be aware when you cut someone off. Stop your sentence mid-stream, and apologize for being rude. This will take discipline on your part to interrupt yourself once you’ve caught yourself in the act.”
- “Carry a small notebook and jot down your thoughts as they occur. Given time, the speaker will often address the point or question naturally during the course of their conversation. If not, writing it removes the fear of forgetting the thought. An added bonus: taking brief notes during a conversation comes across as conscientious.”
- “The best tool I’ve come up with is to actually count to 5 in my head after someone finishes speaking. During this time, I am NOT allowed to talk. It helps me stop stepping on the ends of conversations and keeps me focused and in the present enough to actually listen to what is being said.”
- “Do not talk until someone asks for your thoughts. This is almost guaranteed to give you a reputation of possessing wisdom!” (This approach has its drawbacks, of course, particularly in professional settings, and especially for women.)
- “Take a breath: The next time you have an idea you can’t contain, simply open your mouth and take a quick, short breath. This tricks the mind into thinking that you’ve expressed yourself, creating a moment to focus and write the idea down instead of blurting it out.”
- “[G]et in the habit of repeating back at least some of what colleagues have said to you when you are dealing with important issues. Give that summary before you launch into your own solutions.”
I’m going to try putting some of these techniques into practice in my life. I’ll add that meditation and mindfulness exercises seem to be helping with my interrupting habit. I’m more able to be present and really focus on what the other person is saying, as well as noticing body language and tone. I’m becoming better at observing my thoughts objectively without getting caught up in them, and I’m also generally less reactive. Just as not every feeling requires an action, not every thought needs to be spoken.
How do you resist the urge to interrupt people? What are your best tips for being a better listener?
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