I have failed again. While discussing a course design with my (introvert) friend David, I jumped in while he was talking. I see the tiny flinch, followed by the forgiveness that I have earned through our mutual support over the years, and I feel bad. Again. Why can’t I stop interrupting?
Don’t take it personally – I do it to everyone. My clients, my colleagues, my family… they all know that, in any conversation, I just can’t resist what you may generously call “banter”. Is that OK? I mean, silence is terrifying and deafening, so someone’s got to do it, right?
No. Let’s be tough on interrupting, and tough on the causes of interrupting. To get to the bottom of it, I’ve compiled a list of my (questionable) reasons:
- You have just given me a brilliant idea that is so amazing I dare not forget it. Furthermore, my idea will make whatever you were saying irrelevant, as it solves everything.
- You’ve said something so, so wrong that it cannot be allowed to own any airspace in case it’s recognised as significant or, worse still, more credible than my counter argument.
- I know what you’re going to say, so let me save us both the time and you the effort of hearing it all out.
- You’ve told me this before and I don’t feel I need to hear it again.
- You’re teaching your grandmother to suck eggs, so I need to remind you that I know all of this and you should know that I know.
- I haven’t spoken for ages, so need to be a bigger part of this conversation.
- I’ve had enough of this conversation, so I want to accelerate it to a conclusion.
- I need to stop you from talking and you’re not leaving any gaps, so the only way is to cut across you.
In all cases, to my shame, interruption is rarely positive.
So how do I stop? Here are a few options for those who, like me, can’t stop interrupting:
Mental parking: This is something that I often do in facilitation in a room. There are two flipcharts – one is the Cool Bag, the other is the Freezer. The Cool Bag is for things that you’ll want to take out soon, i.e. in this conversation. The Freezer is for things that don’t fit now, but have to be addressed at some point. This allows you to compartmentalise your thoughts and save those that aren’t relevant for later.
Learn: You may think you know all about what’s being said but, even if that’s the case, you can still take the time to mentally compare what’s being said to what you already know to check if there are any differences. And remember, it doesn’t mean you’re not clever if you listen to something you already knew without saying anything!
Active Listener: I tend to see listening as passive, i.e. “I’m not doing anything”. This is difficult because, for me, doing is almost always speaking. I find that trying to reframe listening as active, even if you’re not verbalising, can be useful. Nodding my head and adapting facial expressions, for example, can keep this Tigger occupied for a while.
Summarise: This old friend is so powerful. If you want to close a conversation, a few summaries will accelerate you towards that relief.
Ride the wave: For the no-gap tsunami, rather than trying to steer into the wave, just ride it. It can almost be meditative if—when someone talks without break—you allow yourself to move with their flow. If necessary, set a nominal limit in your head beyond which you will not listen, and give yourself permission to politely end the conversation at that point.
Practice peace: Sit down, anywhere; in your living room, in your garden, on a wall in the street – anywhere. Turn your phone off. Just sit, for at least 10 minutes, doing absolutely nothing… other than soaking in everything around you. Don’t talk to anyone, don’t close your eyes and meditate, just be. This massive pause can help you get used to silence, meaning you’ll feel less compelled to interrupt in future.
So to all those introverts out there who have suffered under my voice – I am truly sorry, and I am trying to improve!
Managing Director, Sun and Moon Training