I Don’t Mean to Interrupt, But...

You can become a better listener right away when you commit to stop interrupting or at least reduce the amount of it. For most of us, this would be a major behavioral change to stop doing what we’ve been doing habitually and unconsciously for all of our lives.


An article in the New York Times, by Alice Robb, called Disrupting The Interrupting, Why Men are prone to interrupting women, discussed interruption frequency. It cited a study that said: “If a man’s conversational partner was female, he logged an average of 2.1 interruptions over the course of a three-minute dialogue; if his counterpart was male, however, that number dropped to 1.8. Women, too, were less likely to interrupt men than to cut off other women. In each conversation, women interrupted an average of 2.9 times if their partner was female.”  


Instead of waiting for people to finish, we interrupt while saying something like, “I don’t mean to interrupt, but…”  Think about how disingenuous this it.  If it wasn’t our intention to interrupt, why did we just do it?


Catching yourself interrupting is harder than catching other people doing it. Especially when they’re interrupting you. However, when you start paying attention, you’ll notice interruptions happen all day long—both to you and by you.


Why do interruptions happen?


We live in a very busy world and often interrupt because we think we can move a conversation at a faster pace and be more efficient. When someone is searching for a word, we guess versus waiting, as if it were a game. Conversations are rife with attempts to finish other people's sentences and thoughts. It could be we might simply be excited or eager to share and are afraid we might forget what we want to say while waiting for the other person to finish.


Interrupting can also be a major power play. The meaning of one person interrupting another could be the equivalent of: “What I have to say is more important than letting you finish” and in essence, “I am more important than you.” It can indicate dominance and control. Stereotypically, wimps aren’t allowed to complete their statements without them getting trampled on. Strong or powerful people don't get interrupted as much as weaker ones.


There are a number of negative aspects of interrupting people. First, it’s rude and flies in the face of the Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.) If you don’t like being interrupted, it follows that others don’t either. Interruptions break the other person's flow in their part of the conversation and could cause you to miss out on the valuable things they have to say and vice versa.


What if we were to listen in such a way that others would love talking with us? People generally love to hear themselves talk.


What if we exercised discipline in letting someone finish and allowed him the opportunity to be fully self expressed? When you provide someone the space by not stepping on his words, he will experience you differently and this can dramatically shift your relationship with him.


How much better would your relationships be if you interrupted less and listened more?  It’s hard to quantify, but I imagine it would improve them.


How great would it be for you to know the person you’re talking to will listen to you fully and completely? People pay psychologists a lot of money for this privilege.


Here’s a challenge for you: try out not interrupting one day and see how it works. If you’re like me, you’ll need to reference 14 Strategies to Stop Yourself from Interrupting.

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