Behavior of the Week: Listen Without Interrupting

Listening without interrupting, or, better yet, active listening, is perhaps the single most important social skill. Paying close attention to other people when they speak is a gateway to "social intelligence," the general ability to understand and work with others.

The verb listen is used a lot, but its true definition, to pay attention, heed, is often overlooked. Be mindful of the need to pay attention to and heed, AKA listen to, what the other person is saying. Become a better leader, colleague, and, yes, friend or intimate, by simply looking at the speaker and listening attentively without judging or interrupting. Train yourself to never, or at least rarely, interrupt. 

There is not one way to listen. Sometimes listening requires silently absorbing what someone else is saying. Other times, being a good listener means participating in a conversation. Either way, there are some easy tips that can help you get started and make progress.

One easy tip is to repeat or synthesize something someone has said in your response. This both shows that you are actively listening to what they say as well as helping with retention and the thoughtfulness of your response.

In group settings or meetings, you can revert to elementary school and raise your hand or find another way to signal that you would like a turn to speak. If you do not usually use these, perhaps someone else does. It is important to look out for cues from others who may be trying to assert themselves into a conversation but are not as assertive.

If you are really struggling with listening, a rudimentary but effective solution is to pass around an object, like a talking stick, and only allow the person who is holding it to talk. This is not an elegant solution but it can be effective in team situations or when a more serious communication breakdown has occurred.

We have two ears and one mouth, all with their own pathway to the brain, and it can be argued that the ears-to-brain circuit is the most important one for effective communication. An amazing variety of books on all sorts of subjects from sales to leadership to success in marriage emphasize the importance of listening. For example, Craig Lawn’s Shut up and Sell: How to Say Less and Sell More is a classic in the world of sales where such things as the best talk/listen ratio (e.g., the customer should talk twice as much as you, a 2/1 ratio) are hotly debated.