If you find yourself frequently talking over your coworkers, you may find yourself with a bad reputation, according to a study published in the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior. You may not even know you’ve been doing it, but it’s in your best interest to stop talking and start listening.
It may feel like you have good reasons to say what you’re thinking right when you want to, but further examination may help you reconsider when you express yourself.
You interrupt because. . .
1. You don’t want to forget what you were going to say
Sure, you don’t want your important thought to slip away. But talking over someone may cause the person talking to forget their brilliant idea, too. Instead, jot down a keyword on a notepad to jog your memory later. Doing so during a meeting is a win-win; it may increase the perception that you’re paying close attention. And if you forget despite your notes, you can probably assume that what you planned to say wasn’t important enough to justify an interruption.
2. You want to avoid an awkward silence
Do conversational pauses make you anxious? If so, you may chatter to fill them and unintentionally steamroll your conversational partner. The next time a chat lags, mentally count to ten. Likely, you’ll discover that the pauses that seem an eternity are really only a few seconds long. And if you smile or nod encouragingly to your partner, that person may fill the silence.
3. Your mind is on other things
If you’re distracted by another project or by something going on in your life, it’s not the ideal time to engage in conversation. Suggest having the conversation when you’re ready to give your conversant your full attention. That way, you won’t miss any crucial information that he or she may have to share. MaraLee McKee, a public speaker on social etiquette, suggests wording like: “I can see you need a listening ear, Shelly. I’m in the middle of another [project] that needs my attention. Let’s talk about this tomorrow when you have my full attention. You can call or text me anytime after 4:30 p.m.” At the appointed time, set aside unnecessary distractions—emails, social media, games, etc—during the conversation.
4. You don’t understand what the person is saying
You could make the argument that it’s OK to interrupt a speaker if you need clarification. However, in most cases, it’s best to wait—you might find that your question is answered later or the speaker welcomes questions at the end of their statement.
5. You don’t like what you’re hearing
In the workplace, disagreements are inevitable. But if you listen to the opinion of someone you disagree with, you will be well-informed when you present your side. In addition, your colleagues will be more likely to listen to you if they feel you sincerely attempted to understand their point of view.
6. You’re accustomed to interruptions in your culture
You might assume that everyone takes interruptions as lightly as you do, but some people view cutting into a conversation as a sign of disrespect, disinterest, or dominance. If you have a multicultural workplace, you might want to research the cultural norms of your coworkers. Or, err on the side of caution and minimize interruptions as much as possible.
7. You want to control the direction of a conversation
Most conversations don’t need to follow a strict agenda, but you may need to redirect the participants of a business meeting if they stray too far from the meeting’s purpose. The Harvard Business Review suggests using the “jellyfish ground rule” to remind others to stay on task: Before a meeting begins, invite members to use “jellyfish” or any other silly, non-offensive term as a signal that the discussion has deviated from the plan. Since the method involves everyone, you relieve yourself of the burden of controlling the conversational flow by yourself. It also brings a lighthearted element to a normally serious environment.
To prevent your colleagues from forming a negative opinion of you, interrupt less and listen more. You will be surprised how much you can improve your professional relationships!