Conversations drive our lives. They mean everything.
Yet we all face the temptation to do something every day – sometimes several times each day – to mess them up.
I dare you to tell me the following hasn’t happened to you.
- You’re in the midst of a conversation and someone else is speaking and – BAM! – you are hit with a brilliant point. But the other person is still talking and you worry you might lose your moment. So you cut the person off and jump in.
- You’re chatting with a colleague and she is going on and on about her fight with her sister. You have lost all interest and as the minutes tick by you just can’t take it anymore. So you cut her off and jump in.
- You’re with a group of friends and you’re on a roll, right in the middle of your favorite story about the wacky neighbor and – just as you get to the best part – the guy across from you cuts you off and jumps into his own tale of domestic hijinks. Your punch line is lost forever.
Each day we sit in meetings, at luncheons, at family dinners and we engage in a dialogue.
With each one we strive to find that perfect exchange. We speak, then let others do the same, then wait for the pregnant pause that indicates it’s our turn again. It’s often an easy process.
Other times the dialogue feels like more of a monologue. The other person uses extra details or wants to take us through a situation from start to finish or begins to process out loud.
We want to share our thoughts. We want to move on.
We want to interrupt.
We can barely contain ourselves.
What to do?
Because that will kill the conversation.
I say this to you knowing that I am guilty of interrupting people every day for all kinds of reasons.
- I interrupt friends in the middle of a discussion about Facebook to tell my own funny story about a post that went wrong
- I interrupt colleagues when they are in the middle of asking me a question because I think I know what they want
- I interrupt the server when he’s in the middle of telling me the specials because I’ve already picked my meal
What I know is, in the end, this does not reflect on the other person. It might make them feel bad. It might make them angry. Heck, it might not even phase them.
But it shows something about me. It shows that I don’t have enough patience to give others the time and space to share what’s on their mind.
It shows I lack courtesy. It shows I am less professional. It shows I respect people less.
It shows I am pretty high on my own words but not very impressed by the words of others.
I know what you’re thinking.
But…what about those who will go on forever if you let them? What about when it’s in a meeting with the boss and this other person always takes the floor? What about when there is limited time?
There will always be time when we feel we can justify interrupting. Lots of people monopolize conversations. We all know who they are.
But we want to be seen as the great people we are. We want to be professionals. We want to be effective leaders.
How we handle these seemingly simple chats can help…or hurt us.
When people speak they are giving something to you. They are giving you their time (even if it’s too much), their feedback (even if you didn’t ask), the details of their lives (even if they don’t matter).
The point is that these details matter to them. When you cut them off you’re clearly stating that their words don’t matter to you. Perhaps that they don’t matter to you.
You probably don’t mean it that way. But that’s how your actions may very well be perceived.
Let them speak. Let them finish.
Resist killing the conversation. Even if it kills you.
If you find yourself in a situation with people who constantly do this, figure out if it’s worth it for you to be around them or else stop getting together.
- Got a co-worker who won’t stop talking? Stop passing by that person’s desk.
- Got a friend who never takes a breath? Consider pulling back.
- Is the relationship one where you don’t have a choice – or one that you value enough to make it work? Talk to the person about it…just do it nicely.
After all, you have a right. You have limited hours to get things done. You deserve the time to speak up at a meeting, to get your needs met during girl talk. Telling someone these points – kindly – is professional. Telling someone that they never shut up is not.
If your managers can help handle long-talkers in meetings or seating arrangements at the office, talk to them professionally and brainstorm solutions.
(Oh…and if it’s a family member? One who you can’t talk to directly about this? Suck it up or move on. Those are your options because things probably won’t change.)
Now, what about the opposite? What about when others interrupt you? Do the same rules apply?
This is not about what others do. This is about how you want to be perceived. How your actions reflect the person you want to be.
Yes, people will interrupt you. But that’s where your grace comes in. That’s where you nod with interest and smile and let them finish.
Nobody said life is fair. But, in the end, you’ll get further in it when you rise above…when you refuse to kill a conversation.
Not only will you stand out from the crowd. You’ll also be a better leader.
And people will enjoy you – and your conversation – a whole lot more.
Now, go do good…and do it well.