Have you noticed that you can speak with some people and feel really connected and listened-to and with others, you can’t get a word in edge-wise? Some people just cannot help themselves. They get so excited about what you’ve said that they have to launch into a “same-as-you-but-different” story. There are also those among us who fervently love the sound of their own voice and cannot abide someone else’s for any length of time. They are hijackers - conversational terrorists.
Once in a great while though, when the planets have aligned and the moon has a purple ring around it, you find those rare people who have the ability to listen, be actively involved in the conversation and actually let you finish your thought. Unicorn people
We humans interrupt. It’s part of the conversational overlap. We mentally predict what someone is going to say, say it for them and keep going. We think we understand the road they’re driving down, so we steal the wheel and hit the gas. The problem with that is two-fold. One, we’re making assumptions about our conversational partner’s point/idea/feelings that we have no right to make. And two, by interrupting, we’ve made our point of view more important than theirs, even if what we’re saying agrees with or confirms with what they’re saying. We’re literally telling them that what you have to say is less important than what I have to say.
There is a difference between Interjecting and interrupting. Interjecting in a conversation is an affirmative or complimentary expression. It’s “Oh my God!” or “Woo hoo!” or even the commensurate “Awwww.” These interjections encourage the speaker to keep going and let’s them know that you are fully listening and are taking the journey with them. We have to be mindful not to let interjection devolve into interruption. It’s the dreaded, “That’s so true, let me tell you what happened to me…” Again, it goes back to making ourselves more important than the other person.
It’s hard to be a good conversationalist. The bulk of the heavy lifting is not in speaking, but in listening. Listening well is a skill to be practiced. Like a muscle, you have to use it to understand the powerful potential it contains. My company has run many soft skills workshops that included active listening. When we exercise and play with listening, people assume that they're going to be much better at it than they are. It’s a revelation when they realize it’s actually hard damn work! Our Community Listens has built an entire multi-day class around listening skills.
If you find that you’re a constant, consistent conversation hijacker, it’s time to brush up on your listening skills. Learn to be more aware of your role in a conversation. Are you letting the other person finish their thought, or are you jumping right in there? Are you dismissive or are you affirmative? You don’t have to agree with the person speaking to be affirmative in their right to have their view point. Finally, really listen to what they’re saying. Listen to the words, Listen to the way they are saying the words - in what tone, with what emotion are they speaking. Take in their body language, all of it. Working on these skills will transform you from conversational hijacker to unicorn.
LB Adams is the Founder of Practical Dramatics headquartered in Charleston, SC. Her company provides a wealth of soft skills training events that utilize theatre strategies to help humans grow more profitable conversations with other humans. To find out more about conversational competency & active listening workshops, please reach out to us at 843-771-0753.