Shut Up and Listen – 5 Strategies to Stop Interrupting People

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“Stop interrupting me!”

We hear this complaint all too often. Humans are social creatures, yet many of us (especially men) aren’t the best at letting others talk.

Over and over again, we’ve been told the ability to listen is paramount.

Great, so shut up and let the other person talk. Great job!

In reality, it’s not that simple. We interrupt others in more contexts than we realize. In fact, a Stanford University study demonstrated people disagree on what constitutes an interruption.

Amid the confusion, we can all interrupt less and listen more. Below are five strategies to stop interrupting people:

1. Embrace the Silence

Whenever we meet somebody new, we like to engage in a flowing conversation. Transitions between statements are seamless. I talk, then you chime in with another thought.

What seems like a continuous conversation could be perceived as one person interrupting the other. An attempt to engage in a flowing conversation has resulted in us cutting off each other’s statements.

What is it we’re avoiding? The silent gaps between statements.

Don’t look at silence as an awkward pause, but rather an indication the person you’re speaking with has fully communicated their thought.

Let the other person finish what they’re saying. Nothing too groundbreaking.

The inability for others to express themselves is far worse than a brief moment of silence.

2. Hold the Questions

See the conversation below:

Person #1: Yesterday I had a make a run to the grocery store…..

Person #2: (interrupting person #1): Why were you shopping for groceries? We just bought some yesterday.

Person #1: Well, if you let me finish I can explain!

Many of the questions we ask are in the midst of somebody telling us a long story or giving a thorough explanation. If you’re engaged, you may think asking questions is a signal you’re actively listening.

While this is true, we need to allow the person to continue with their dialogue. There’s a chance your burning question will be answered if you wait.

The only scenario in which it could be acceptable to interrupt somebody is an immediate need for clarification. If there is immense confusion, then interjecting with a question might be appropriate.

This rule is more of an art than a science. If a question is appropriate, then do ask. But do so with caution and sparingly. The speaker needs time and space to express their thoughts.

3. Resist the Joke

This can be hard to resist.

Perfectly timed jokes can be planted as a pun or innuendo based on what the other person says. Cracking a joke at the wrong time with the wrong person can be costly.

I will admit there is some gray area here. If you’re with your best friend and have the kind of relationship in which you feel comfortable cutting them off with a witty quip, go ahead and channel your inner comedian.

But we can all recount situations in which an attempt at a perfectly timed joke occurred at an imperfect time.

Resist the joke. And if the joke is too good, wait your turn to speak.

Will the joke be as funny? Maybe, or maybe not. At the very least, you can rest easy knowing you let each person convey their thoughts.

4. Embrace the Repetition

See the following conversation between a father and his son:

Father: Before you leave for the party, just remember — don’t drink and…

Son: Yes dad, I know this already. You’ve only told me this a million times.

Father: Why do you think you’ve been told this a million times?

If somebody is saying something of high importance, there’s a good chance you’ve heard the same lesson before.

The most important life lessons deserve high levels of repetition.

“The eight laws of learning are explanation, demonstration, imitation, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition.” — John Wooden

When you hear something you’ve heard before, resist chiming in and saying you already know. Practice listening to the repeated lesson. Learn to embrace the repetition.

Imagine your parents telling you never to drink and drive on only one occasion. What kind of parenting would that be?

5. Stop Guessing What the Other Person Will Say

If we think we know what a person will say, we may attempt to finish their thought.

An attempt to finish another person’s statement is a lose-lose. There are two likely scenarios, neither of which would serve you well.

Let’s say I interrupt my friend and correctly guess what she’s about to say. What do I gain from doing that?

Practically nothing, aside from possibly alienating my friend.

Now imagine I interrupt my friend and incorrectly guess what she’s about to say. Not only do I alienate my friend, but I also look like a total clown in the process.

Resist the urge to assume what others will say. Failure to do so will only bite you in the butt.

Takeaway Strategy

Entrepreneur Ray Dalio has a terrific strategy to avoid all the previously mentioned pitfalls.

Dalio discusses in his book Principles to practice the 2-minute rule. The rule is quite simple.

The 2 minute rule specifies that you have to give someone an uninterrupted 2 minutes to explain their thinking before jumping in with your own. This ensures that everyone has time to fully crystallize their thoughts without worrying they will be misunderstood or drowned out.

Ray Dalio

It’s that easy; let the speaker speak for at least two minutes. This allows the speaker to “crystalize their thoughts.” In other words, the speaker can fully express their thoughts without being cut off.

People deserve to be heard. Give others space and time to express themselves fully. It’s a sign of respect.

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