“Hold on, Let Me Finish!” — How to Stop Interrupting

By Steve Hansen, PCC.

We are all guilty of interrupting — but if we all just stopped and listened, argues Nancy Kline, we could radically change the way we live (from The Promise That Changes Everything: I Won’t Interrupt You, by Nancy Kline). Imagine the relief, the possibilities, the dignity. You now have ground that is yours. Time to think. To feel. To figure out what you really want to say. To say it. To consider it. To change it. To finish your sentences and choose your own words. And because you know I will not interrupt you, you will want, when you finish, to know what I think too. You open to me. And because you in turn promise not to interrupt me, I am more open as well. So, can we learn how to stop interrupting?

We all long for this, the promise of no interruption, the promise of interest, the promise of attention while we think. And yet it is nowhere. We see only interruption. Everyone interrupts. In fact, according to the Gottman Institute in Seattle, three years ago the average listening time of even professional listeners was 20 seconds. Now it is 11.

Interruption diminishes us. It diminishes our thinking. In the face of it, our own thinking barely has a chance to form. That means that our decisions are weaker and our relationships are thinner. Interruption of thinking is destructive.

How to Stop Interrupting? Make a Genuine Commitment

We know it is not really polite or considerate, so sometimes we apologize as we interrupt. And then we keep doing it. But we can stop all forms of interruption. We can decide right now to be masters of our attention, to commit to understanding others. And perhaps be better understood in return.

This promise of no interruption can turn us towards a richer dialog, better understanding of one another, determined to understand each other, not to convince each other. 

We can stop interruption simply by committing to stop interrupting. We need to agree: 

1) to start giving attention

2) to stay interested in where each other’s thinking will go next 

3) to share the “stage” equally.

This promise is different from anything else we do with each other. It is different because it requires a donning of humility. It is different because it upends the appearance of stability, because it wants to, and does, produce independent thinking. It is different because it requires us to stop wanting to impress.

Stopping interrupting begins by facing the emptiness of our excuses for interruption: “I must clarify; I must correct; I must look smart right now; I must follow my own curiosity; I know where you are going with this.”

Will you take the challenge? Like any new behavior, try it out for a week. See what you learn about yourself and see how your new behavior impacts others. Don’t just trust this concept, make it your own: give attention, stay interested, share the “stage” and see what happens. Sometime things can transform from the simplest action.

Learn more about giving attention and mindfulness here. To learn more about how to stop interrupting, and developing your leadership communication skills, contact Steve for a consultation.