No one can deny that verbal communication skills are vital for effective leadership. They are a are staple skill requirements for nearly every job posting and in turn, touted on resumes. Employers all demand them. Job seekers all claim to have them. Who are we kidding? There’s a skills gap between what’s really needed and what most people have. So, let’s explore one of the biggest sins of conversational communication: The interruption.
Why should you avoid interrupting as if your career depends on it?
Let’s begin by understanding that the purpose of communication is to effect some sort of behavioral response. So, your discussions are supposed to be about influencing other people to act, think and/or feel. How do others feel about both you and your message when you’re guilty of this communication crime? Are you supporting or defeating your purpose?
What typically occurs when you interrupt a speaker?
- You imply that your intruding message is more important than theirs. So much for respect and rapport.
- According to studies, your discussion will typically take about 20% longer as interrupted speakers feel a need to take even more time to drive home their point when they feel misunderstood.
So much for skillful, efficient, rapport building communication.
If you truly want to influence others to your point of view…
- Remember Stephen Covey’s Habit #5:“First Seek to Understand, then to be understood“. You need to demonstrate your understanding before earning the right to shape others’ views.
- Realize that exceptional talkers are a dime a dozen. Exceptional listeners are rare and treasured individuals.
- Ask yourself: Which is a more valuable influencing skill: being interesting or interested? If you answered “interesting“, congratulations! You’re a dime a dozen.
So the next time you’re locked, loaded and ready to shoot down a speaker to inject your “interesting”, important insight, just know that you’ll most likely shoot yourself in the foot.
Exceptions to the rule?
I can think of a few. If we remember that our purpose is to effect some sort of behavioral response, there are some occasions when the desired response is to stop the flow of expression.
Some of our aforementioned exceptional talkers don’t know when to stop and may need your help. In that case, you might politely acknowledge that you “get it”. Or sometimes you never will “get it” and it’s just time to move on. You may need to put your time ahead of the speakers feelings. Just be aware of the potential damage and be tactful, even apologetic with your violation of their status.
Or, sometimes you have questions that are critical to understanding the other person’s point of view. In the case of asking for clarification, it is not disrespectful. It demonstrates that you’re interested. But use this interruption excuse with discretion. Misuse of this liberty could prove you’re just not listening.
How Wrong Is It?
Now that I’ve had my say, I’d be honored to learn your thoughts and comments. Since we’re writing, there’s no risk of my interruption. Yes, I occasionally must plead guilty. I admit that sometimes my eagerness to make a point gets the best of me. But, I am improving and striving to become one of those rare, exceptional listeners. While interruption abstinence may be a simple concept, old habits die hard. This is especially true if you embrace the tongue-in-cheek mindset of Mark Twain:
“There is nothing so annoying as to have two people talking when you’re busy interrupting.”