I appear to be on the receiving end of an epidemic of interrupting at the moment and it’s time to make a stand.

The final straw came when I was telling a friend a story about something that had recently happened to me – well, she HAD asked – and first she kept interrupting me, because what I said reminded her of something and then she kept finishing my sentences, because she thought she knew what I was going to say and finally she latched onto a minor part of my story and kept referring back to it, giving it much more emphasis than it really deserved until eventually it got to the stage where I ended up cutting the conversation short thinking, ‘well you tell the blooming story then’.

Have you ever had that happen to you? Have you ever done it to someone else? It’s endemic in business today and it will be costing you and your company money. Why? Because either the person you keep interrupting will just give up and tell you no more or, even worse, they will silently think you rude and annoying but smile sweetly at you whilst making a mental note to give their business to someone else. And you will never know why.

My friend’s not alone though – interrupting seems irresistible. We all do it. We’re in a rush, we know what the person was going to say (at least we think we do), we want to show we’re already thinking ahead. We’re not listening because we are too focused on what we want to say.

But it’s double jeopardy. Not only is interrupting annoying, irritating and sometimes downright rude, it’s likely we’ll miss vital information (or misconstrue it) in our rush to help fill the gaps when someone draws for breath.

We work with professional services companies to help them transform their business development and the act of listening – without interruption – is one of the most critical things they often need to learn to win more business. At Caffeine we have a rule that we cannot interrupt a client. It’s not as easy as it sounds, especially for people who talk for a living. We often sit with our hand over our mouth to prevent interruption. And we always ask, ‘is there anything more’ or ‘is that everything you want to tell us?’ which often reveals something unexpected but useful – such as what the real issue is, so we can better help them. Keeping schtumn enables a rhythm to the conversation and the space for both parties’ thoughts to land. Then it’s guaranteed that the client’s words are their words, not what we think they were going to say.

As for my friend, did she have any idea how incensed she had made me? Of course not. I was far too British to actually say anything to her and I didn’t want to interrupt.

Three tips to avoid becoming a sales prevention officer:

  1. Interrupting costs you money – if you don’t listen properly, you’ll miss the point and therefore the sale
  2. You have two ears and one mouth- use them in that proportion
  3. Human beings like to be with other human beings who let them have their say. Do you have a monopoly on wisdom? Do you have all the answers? No. So shut up. The person who is talking might do but you will only find out if they get to finish without interruption.


Louisa Clarke

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