Why Interrupting Someone Could Be Ruining the Quality of Their Thinking

By , February 2, 2012 12:18 pm

“The quality of your attention determines the quality of other people’s thinking.”

Nancy Kline – Author.

Many years ago I used to have a boss who liked the sound of her own voice so much that she wouldn’t let you speak. If you did get a chance to talk, she would talk over you and finish your sentences.

She used to equate talking with being the manager. She was a poor listener jumping in too soon with her own ideas. It was suffocating to be on the receiving end because she’d never give you any time to think. She was too eager to give advice.

My attention was splattered every time I was interrupted. I’d avoid speaking with her unless it was really necessary because I always felt drained by the experience.

We are all guilty of tailgating someone else’s conversation. In some way interrupting seems irresistible. For a few of us, interrupting has become a habit – it’s hard not to do it.

This was true for one of my coaching clients who realized that when he finished people’s sentences he was making these assumptions:

  • I’m the boss so I’m more important
  • I knew what they were going to say
  • The other person was over-talking so it was the only way to get my idea across
  • I was saving time
  • My solution was better than theirs
  • If I didn’t say my idea in the moment I would forget it

When you finish someone’s sentence for them, you’re usually making one or more of these assumptions:

  1. That they can’t finish it for themselves
  2. That you know the exact words they are about to use.
  3. That your choice of words will be better!

You may recognize some of these…

How often have you finished someone’s sentence and got it wrong? You may have chosen the wrong word or totally changed the ending of the sentence and said the opposite to what they were about to say!

We’re often too focused on our own self-importance to notice how our interruption affects the other person.

Their internal experience changes the moment you started thinking for them rather than allowing them to think for themselves. Their attention is lost because your interruption cuts them off from their own understanding of what they were saying.

The important thing is that they were saying it.

One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is to listen with respectful attention and without assumption.

As a coach and people manager, I have come to realize that listening with attention is hugely important because the quality of my attention impacts the effectiveness of the other person’s thinking.

Allowing someone space to search for their words adds quality to their thinking. You’re allowing people to think for themselves rather than imposing your own thinking upon them.

Most people have ideas that matter whatever their status or position. Don’t judge them with your assumptions. By ‘getting out of their way’ you are creating a space for their thoughts to be fully developed. This opens up new possibilities that could make a difference.

Next time you feel the urge to interrupt or finish someone’s sentence:

  1. Notice that you’re about to interrupt them.
  2. Shut up!
  3. Step back and allow them some space to search for the words themselves.
  4. Stop trying to think for them.
  5. Allow them to play in their own dog park! I LOVE this metaphor: It’s safe environment where they know you won’t keep interrupting them. Where their mind can be allowed to roam around freely to imagine, create and explore things without being on a leash! In other words: without being manipulated by your assumptions!

One Response to “Why Interrupting Someone Could Be Ruining the Quality of Their Thinking”

  1. Paris Reyne says:

    I agree with ya!

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