How often do you find yourself interrupting someone? Wishing they’d get to the point? Willing them to just stop talking!
I get it. Really, I do. Time is short. Sometimes it’s hard not to finish people’s sentences to move things along.
I empathized completely when a client recently confided: “I think the reason I have trouble connecting with my team is that I’m too impatient. I just don’t need all the back story. They say I’m curt. But I can’t help myself! I don’t want to waste time going into it all. Do I really have to fake I’m interested in everything they have to say?”
Ah, no.... Faking is not the way to go. It’s actually counterproductive.
People can detect your disinterest through subtle and subconscious clues you provide. When your eyes glaze over, it’s impossible to build trust, never mind the deeper connections you need to lead your team. Secondly, sometimes your impatience is warranted. That guy from IT who just keeps going on … even when people start staring at the clock and flicking paperclips? People who waste your time, waste everyone else’s as well.
The reasons why people ramble are many: they’re nervous; they haven’t structured their thoughts in advance; they’re thinking things through “out loud;” they’re lost in the detail and can’t see the big picture. Or they’re just more interested in their story than anyone else is!
Getting impatient with people who won’t get to the point is a natural reaction. The trick is knowing what to do about it. Intervening effectively is a balancing act. You need to steer the conversation where it needs to go and stay open to hear new information from the other person.
1. Guide them to the point
When a conversation turns into a monologue, make your interruption polite, respectful and clear.
- Find out what they need. Are they asking for guidance? A decision? More time or money for a project? Get to the bottom of it faster. (To keep us focused, tell me how I can be helpful?)
- Ask for what you need from the conversation. Is it the summary, the context, the so-what? (Sorry to interrupt, in the interests of time, can you skip to where things stand right now?) I often say to clients: Tell me what you need upfront, so I can know what I’m listening for.
This is the basic skeleton of the redirect. Politely intervene and then ask a clarifying question to get to the answer with less of the detour.
The exact words you use depends on the situation. For example, when a junior member of staff has clearly invested a great deal of time in resolving an issue before presenting it to you, you might add, “I appreciate the time you’ve invested in this. What’s needed to make progress?”
For your redirect to do its job (which is to spare everyone’s time without destroying rapport or humiliating the person speaking to you), tone is everything. Try not to wait until you want to strangle them. Or if it’s too late, take a deep breath before you cut them off. Very few of us know how to interrupt gently, without damage. Conscious practice will help you interrupt in a calm, courteous and clarifying way. When you convey your genuine interest in helping the other person, you may buy yourself more permission to interrupt.
2. Get curious
Impatience stems from thinking you already know what someone is trying to say or whether what they’re saying is important to the meeting.
The trouble is, sometimes (or even most of the time), you’re wrong.
Maintaining a narrow, focused span of attention is excellent for getting things done. It’s problematic for seeing the whole picture. I suggest my clients engage in listening from deep curiosity. It’s a mindset of “there is something here to learn – what question can I ask to get to the heart of the matter?”
If you aren’t engaging in curiosity, your impatience can cost the organization dearly. Unreliable suppliers? Lost customers? Serious safety hazards? You can be certain someone further down the organization is better equipped than you are to spot these risks before they come to a head. Before ending the conversation, you might ask: Is there anything else about this situation I need to know? It might be one of the most important questions you ever ask.
3. Put money in the bank
Finally, it’s worth remembering that being too task-oriented will cost you more than just friends. It costs you followers, and that makes you ineffective as a leader. Again, the answer lies in finding the balance.
Last year I posted about how investing in relationships in advance pays off when it comes to managing conflicts in your organization. Interrupting people is essentially a mini-conflict. People tolerate you doing it (and if done well, appreciate it) because you’re already invested in a relationship with them. You know what matters to them, understand their goals and care about their well-being. If you’ve already got a good working relationship, you can afford to be transactional some of the time.
Knowing how to get someone to the punchline isn’t just good for your blood pressure, it’s good for everyone. Just remember to balance your attention. Whenever you zoom in to get to the main point, remember to “zoom out.” You do this by getting curious. Curious about the real intent behind the conversation, and curious about the person who’s talking to you. Have you given that relationship the space to grow?
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