I'll Excuse You for Talking While I'm Interrupting

06/03/2014 12:05 pm ET Updated Aug 03, 2014

When you see your own behavior in others and it bothers you, take note -- you have probably aggravated other people unknowingly. It's time for introspection!

As long as I remember, I've had a bad habit of interrupting. I've always been an energetic, excited person, and when I was a child, I just didn't know better than to jump into my elders' conversations. Over the years I've developed an ability to restrain myself -- somewhat.

I've also developed a stronger ability to frame a situation. I'm cognizant of patterns that often tell me instinctively where a conversation is going. I'm still guilty, from time to time, of interrupting to say, "I get what you're saying, let's move on." The U.S. business culture is globally known for our speed and efficiency. It's well known our style is to do business, then build relationships, not vice versa. But it comes at a cost.

The "listening-challenged" need not apply

Today I interviewed a candidate for a key role at a client firm. This individual isn't just a talker -- he's VERBOSE. Not only did he use as many words as possible to make his point, he wouldn't let me finish a sentence. To say he is "listening-challenged" would be too mild a statement.

The way this trait plays out in an enterprise is not exactly conducive to your ability to build strong business relationships. You might as well have a rev limiter attached to your engine. I've been in situations with clients where I start to suggest an idea and before I get a sentence out, someone is jumping in with "Can't do that!" "That'll never work." I'd like to say, "Let me finish before you object!" And sometimes I do, politely of course.

I could see that hiring Mr. Verbose into a strategically important position within my client would put a roadblock in front of every good idea in his functional area -- and would be a blow to their corporate culture as well. Suffice to say, he's off the short list.

Introspection required

Experiencing Mr. Verbose's behavior really made me think about my own. I was right back at the family table in Iran, 10 years old, with my grandfather demanding respect for our Persian traditions. Which made me realize -- I could practice listening louder, myself, even now.

This also can happen in our personal lives. Not sure if you've been in the situation where your significant other has something to tell you about a family or friend matter, and you know where its going. If you're astute enough to practice proactive, intentional, and omnipresent listening skills and behavior, you bite your tongue, and don't speak a word until they're completely finished. Only then you can respond and their response becomes one of shock. They may even say, "Thank you for listening to me. I don't know what crazy experiment you're up to, but it's working."

Who would you shock if you didn't interrupt them? Interrupting has become a cultural norm. Young people do it -- perhaps because they are so immersed in social media, they aren't getting practice at the nuances of real-time conversation. Smart people do it -- often unintentionally. Unfortunately, their action may feel belittling to others. You have probably done it, maybe more than you realize. Face it -- unless you make time for introspection about your behavior, you'll never know.

Relationships come with responsibilities

In a conversation, you have responsibilities that go beyond fresh breath and friendly posture. To make that conversation part of a successful relationship, take the measure of the person, the situation, and the cultural norms in effect.

Ascertain the behavioral type Observe the person you're dealing with, and adjust your style to match. Most of us have done Myers Briggs or a similar type of personality profiling that helps you become aware of patterns to look for. People are naturally more comfortable when they feel they're with "people like me." It's not hard to adjust, once you learn to slow down and observe.

Be cognizant of the right behavior at the right time with the right person. Attending a board meeting with senior executives? Use your verbal and nonverbal behavior to signal your respect for the overt hierarchy in the room. Among peers, brainstorming with all the intellectual horsepower at your disposal? Now a more informal, rapid-fire, style is appropriate. Speaking with your significant other or adolescent children? Well, I'll let you handle that one.

Finally, be aware of the cultural norms of the people in the room--wherever the room is. In the Middle East, an energetic, "Let's go," style is perfectly acceptable business behavior. Move that room to Britain and a more reserved style will rule. Neither is right or wrong--lack of awareness of cultural norms is. You can convey the wrong impression if you fail to take cultural norms into account. Just ask anyone who's been called a "pushy New Yorker."

Nour Takeaways
  1. If a behavior bothers you in other people, take a close look: you probably noticed a trait of your own that is annoying to others.
  2. People who are "listening-challenged" act as a drag on teams and the entire enterprise. Don't be one of them -- and mentor others to overcome this unproductive behavior.
  3. Recognize that business relationships come with responsibilities, including observing and adapting to individual styles, the nature of specific situations, and broader cultural norms.

David Nour is an enterprise growth strategist and the thought leader on Relationship Economics® -- the quantifiable value of business relationships. Nour has pioneered the phenomenon that relationships are the greatest off balance sheet asset any organizations possesses, large and small, public and private. He is the author of several books including the best selling Relationship Economics -- Revised (Wiley), ConnectAbility (McGraw-Hill), The Entrepreneur's Guide to Raising Capital (Praeger) and Return on Impact--Leadership Strategies for the age of Connected Relationships (ASAE). Learn more at www.NourGroup.com.