This is really hard to write about. I’m Cathy Graham. I’m an interrupter. It’s been 3 hours since my last interruption. So you other interrupter’s out there are saying, so what? I’m sure you have something important to say. What’s the big deal?
It is a big deal. It shuts the door. It says that my idea or thought or rebuttal is more important than your idea or thought. I am not saying that I am the only guilty party. We are a society of interrupters. Every good political debate, decent reality show and “60 Minutes” investigation usually involves someone interrupting someone else. Shame on all of us.
Some of you aren’t interrupters. Thank you. Thank you for your patience and forgiveness. For the rest of us those who will admit we have a problem let me give you a few pointers on how to get over to the other side.
1. Listen. I know I’ve written about this before but it cannot be over stated. Actively listen and quit letting your mind wander into the war zone of rebuttals and/or watching the clock so that you can pretend that you are really listening. Hmmm. I’ve let my co-worker talk for at least 2 minutes, so now is my time to jump in. Stop. Turn on all receptors.
2. Digest. Take in the conversation or discussion. If this is a team meeting, take it all in. Try and get the whole picture of the other participants’ viewpoint. Is your teammate telling you he can’t get the project done; or just not done in the parameters that the team wanted? Or by the deadline he initially agreed to? Take in every detail. Knowing all the details will help you in the end and the rest of the team will be impressed with your knowledge of the facts and details (pretty cool, huh?).
3. Suspend. Stay far away from making assumptions. This is dangerous territory. If you are assuming then you are not digesting. There is no way possible for you to read someone else’s mind. You might have a good guess as to someone else’s motivation but you can’t know for sure. Your boss might have shot this idea down ten times before but assuming she is shooting you down now puts you on the defensive and lights the match for interrupting. Suspend all your beliefs and assumptions. Really.
4. Pause. As in, wait a cotton pickin’ minute. OK, maybe not a minute, but wait 5 seconds. Let there be a little air in the room. Let everyone take a breath. Don’t be waiting at the ready to rebut and/or shoot down whatever idea has just been floated. Pause and take a breath. And if someone else jumps in, this is your opportunity to learn patience (not my strong suit…this is where I struggle). Engage in listening mode and bite your tongue.
5. Unselfish. It’s all about them. Unless this is your wedding day, Eagle Scout induction or your retirement lunch, this is always about them. Them, as in, everyone else in the room; your teenage daughter, your boss, your coworker, the soccer team or the class. If you keep them as your focus, you slowly eliminate the amount of interrupting you are doing. If you can keep your focus on them, on their ideas; you will break your habit.
6. Rinse and Repeat. Just like your shampoo bottle recommends. Just keep on keeping on. There will be times when this is irresistible. Like when someone tries to instruct me that Napa Valley has the best Zinfandels. I need to just smile and listen patiently and choke the words back that want to spew forth. Let them have their peace. Let them impart their knowledge. When a manager tries to explain a labor law that I know intimately as well as the latest regulations I smile and let them have their due. I’m not going to say that I won’t say anything. But if they ask? Sonoma Valley Old Vine is the best, in my humble opinion. But what do you gain by interrupting to bestow that fact. Unless you’re tasting wines or buying a winery, let them have their way.
I find this to be especially effective with hot button issues like politics, religion and most sporting events (my college Alma Mater is worth interrupting for). I will say that when I listen patiently, smile and acknowledge others in a heated debate or team discussion, it really improves your reputation. People gravitate to the person who listens rather than tries to interrupt. So if you have the habit, acknowledge it and start working on it. You will be on your way to being a social magnate.