I’d like to start off this piece with an admission. Hi, my name is Jordan, and I’m an Interrupt-a-holic. (Hi Jordan.) The first step to dealing with any problem is admitting you have one. And how do I know that I have this problem? Well, let me take you back to my moment of self-discovery. Now, it seems to me that we humans always seem to notice faults in others before we are able to recognize them in ourselves. Funny how that works, right? But it’s true! To truly see how bad we are, sometimes we have to meet someone else with the same problem—oftentimes on an extreme level. And that’s exactly how I began to see the truth…
Several years ago when I was dating a guy in college, I was introduced to his family. They are great people, through and through, from the smallest of tots to the eldest of grandparents. The more time I spent with the family, the more I began to understand them and know their unique characteristics. What I came to find was that one of them was the worst interrupter I had ever met in my entire life. Shockingly so. This person had interrupting so ingrained in their poor excuse for communication that it literally drove me insane, to the point that I felt like an intervention was needed on their behalf because it was really just that bad. They would interrupt you when you were telling stories, when you were answering their question, or when you were talking to someone else. I mean, there were no boundaries, nothing sacred about patiently waiting for their turn to speak—nothing mattered. Whenever they had a thought, a reply, or something they wanted to say, they just spoke. Oftentimes over you in volume, regardless of who was speaking or what the speaker might be saying.
I started to do some self-reflection as I brought this matter up to my significant-other-at-the-time. After all, I didn’t want to be a hypocrite. I knew I was guilty of interruption from time to time; in fact, I don’t know a single person who doesn’t interrupt once in a while for one reason or another. And I discovered that the more aware I was of this person interrupting, the more aware I became of how frequent and the reasons for my interruptions.
…we always seem to notice faults in others before we recognize them in ourselves.
Flash forward several years, and I still struggle with this problem—the act of interrupting—as both a recipient and a perpetrator. It pains me to meet people who interrupt constantly, and they are everywhere! I, myself, have tried very hard to curb my issue with interrupting and let people complete their stories, their sentences, or heck, even just their actions. We, as a society, have become so impatient with each other that we have let interruption take over our lives in almost every facet of living, communication, and interaction.
Personality types have a lot to do with who does the interrupting and who gets interrupted. As I watched people with dominant personalities interrupt the lives of the meek more so than not, I wondered how I could suggest a fix. Certainly those who are outspoken do truly dominate conversation, and often times, feel that they have a right to break in and interrupt those who they feel are wrong. People who feel like their opinions are always right (aka the “my way or the highway” folks) will more often than not be the ones who struggle the most with interrupting others. Or maybe it isn’t even in conversation—maybe it is a home project, or a math problem, or a work-related process—and we feel like we could do it better or faster. We don’t feel like waiting for the other person to accomplish the goal in their own way so we interrupt their arguments, processes, or train of thought to do it ourselves. What’s even worse is that a lot of the time, we might even think we are helping! I mean, why let this person continue on in their incorrect thinking pattern or process when we obviously know the right way? (Let’s all take a moment of silence and shake our heads at this point, for it is a sad, sad thing.)
Ok, now we’ve identified that we all have a problem…so, what can we do?
1. Practice empathetic listening.
I recently read a book titled Communication in Marriage: How to Communicate with your Spouse without Fighting by Marcus & Ashley Kusi. My hubby and I have been working on how we speak and listen to each other, and in order to discover the differences in our styles of communication, I started reading all kinds of material on the art of communication itself. Chapter 2 of this wonderful book focuses on learning how to listen to your spouse. It points out how most of the time when we speak to each other, while the other person is speaking, we aren’t actually listening to them because we are more concerned about how to respond in order to get them to understand us. Let me put it this way: when someone else is speaking, instead of actually listening to them in order to understand their point of view, we are already deep in our own thoughts working on a response that will get them to see our point of view. The authors of the book reference an anonymous quote that perfectly sums it up, “The biggest problem in communication is we do not listen to understand… we listen to reply.” Listening to understand shows the other person empathy; it shows them that regardless of whether or not we agree with them, we are willing to listen in order to fully understand and grasp what it is they are saying—without inputting our two cents into their feelings.
We, as a society, have become so impatient with each other that we have let interruption take over our lives in almost every facet of living, communication, and interaction.
2. Practice active listening.
This means that as someone who is listening to someone else speak, we need to give them (enter our elementary school teacher) our undivided attention. Outside interruptions to our listening can cause us very often to interrupt others. For example, let’s say you and your husband need to discuss something. If he’s sitting there scrolling through Facebook on his phone, or watching TV, chances are he’s not giving you his full attention and will likely be distracted by what he’s taking in on the screen instead of fully listening to you, and this might cause him to interrupt you. So for him to listen to you and give you his full attention, you might suggest that he turn off the TV, or put down the smartphone. You should always do the same. If someone is speaking to you, focus on the speaker and wait until they have finished their sentence or thought before letting outside stimuli influence your reply. If you want people to listen to you, you have to listen to them. Conversation, empathy, and active listening are certainly two-way streets.
3. Practice patient listening.
You will be surprised by how much further you will get in your communication and conversations if you are patient enough to let someone finish their thought. How many times have I said to my mother, and equally she said to me, “Will you just let me finish what I’m saying?” In desperation to be heard, often times we plead for people to just be patient enough to let us get out what is on our hearts! Again, we always feel like what we have to say is right, so why let the other person finish what they are saying? Because it shows that we care about the other person (even if we don’t agree with them), and that ultimately, we respect them. (Respect: another two-way street.) It was Jean-Jacques Rousseau who summed it up perfectly by saying, “Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.” That’s because it’s so stinkin’ difficult for us to be patient (hence, the bitter) and let the other person speak their mind! But, once we do, we will have a full understanding of the other person’s stance and point of view and can then, in turn, make the best reply. Thus, we strengthen our bonds through empathetic, active, and patient listening (enter, the sweet).
I challenge you this week to catch yourself interrupting. And when you do—because we all will—ask yourself: am I patiently listening? Am I being empathetic to this person who deserves my full understanding and respect? Am I actively and attentively listening to them, or am I distracted? And: if the shoe were on the other foot, how would I feel? Maybe then you can add yourself to the lifelong group of “Interrupters Anonymous,” begin the road to recovery from your communication weakness, and start to show grace to those in your life who deserve your attention, and not your interruption.
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