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  • Paul Hollywell

Improving our verbal communication

A vital part of Successful Thinking is listening to others and communicating verbally better. Improving verbal communication makes us more creative and innovative and improves our efficiency and wellbeing.

And all this can be achieved by a single change in our behaviour …

Why are we so good at interrupting people or finishing their sentences in conversations? Why do we regularly interrupt during meetings? Is it because we think (not that we would ever admit it):

· My idea is better than theirs

· If not, I’ll never get my idea across

· I know what they are going to say

· I am more important than they are

· It’s more important for me to look good

· It will save time.

And as for when we finish someone’s sentence for them, is it because we are assuming:

· They’re unable to finish it themselves before I die of boredom

· My words will be their words or better

· It won’t hurt them but waiting another second will damage me.

In fact, most of the time we are wrong about what the person is going to say. Usually they come up with a completely different word or sentence that is much better than we can think of.

During meetings talkative people love interrupting. They like to know that whenever they get the urge, they can barge into whatever is being said at that moment. Interruption is often viewed as a strong, assertive, intelligent thing to do, but in fact it is none of these. It is actually an assault on the thinking process and is selfish and costly. Ideas are crushed in the wake of interruption and ideas are developed that are based on fragments of ideas.

So, prevent it. Let’s agree not to interrupt each other. Everyone should be given their turn, and no one gets trampled. And while we wait, we’ll begin to understand why it is that the quiet people, listening patiently, sometimes have the best ideas.

We can still exchange ideas, disagree, fight, joke, and collaborate. Just don’t interrupt. Discuss freely but let each other finish. When people know they will have a turn and be allowed to finish their thought, they think more quickly and say less. When they anticipate interruption, on the other hand, they grasp for parts of ideas, they rush, and they elaborate. Interruptions take up more time than allowing people to travel cleanly through to the end of an idea.

If you are worried about this taking too much time it has been shown that giving everyone time saves time.

So, let’s decide to change one aspect of our behaviour by pledging to give people attention without interruption during open and even very heated debate and holding each other accountable in doing this.

[Based on extracts from ‘Time to Think’ by Nancy Kline, 1999]

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