If you find yourself accidentally interrupting others, there could be quite a few things going on. It might be a sign you're not fully in the moment, or that you're only waiting for your turn to talk. But no matter the reason, it's always possible to learn how to be a better listener, and find more balance.
It's also something you can adjust fairly quickly. In fact, "many people can begin changing a behavior the instant they choose to change," Dr. Jamie Long, a licensed clinical psychologist with The Psychology Group Fort Lauderdale, tells Bustle. "Once you see the value in changing the ineffective behaviors of interrupting and not listening, motivation will increase. With some practice and mindfulness, you can see the benefits of becoming a better listener very quickly."
And there are quite a few. "By learning to become a better listener and controlling your desire to interrupt, you avoid miscommunication and make the person you're listening to feel valued," psychotherapist Louis Laves-Webb, LCSW, LPC-S, tells Bustle. "Listening well is the foundation of good communication, and good communication is the number one attribute of any healthy relationship." It can also make conversations more fun, since they're less likely to be one-sided. So, with all that in mind, read on below for a few ways to become a better listener in only a few days, according to experts.
1. Notice When You're Interrupting
To start, the best way to break an interrupting habit is by making yourself more aware of it, including the situations where it's most likely to happen. Do you interrupt friends when they call to tell a story? Or step on the ends of people's sentences at work?
The next time you do, "you can even say, 'I’m sorry, I just interrupted you,'" Lauren Cook, MMFT, a clinician practicing emotionally-focused therapy, tells Bustle. "This acknowledges to the other person that you are aware of your behavior and intend to improve." And from there, you can continue to be more mindful.
"Simply being mindful of your desire to interject is the first step," Cook says. "As you build this awareness, it may feel uncomfortable but see how long you can sit with silence without immediately jumping in. You’ll see that you start to develop more tolerance as you practice this skill."
2. Do One Thing At A Time
While it's not always possible to do one thing at a time, try not to multi-task when listening to someone, and you may notice that you have an easier time absorbing what they say.
"Act interested by facing and maintaining eye contact with the person to whom you’re listening," Long says. "It’s much harder to listen and pay attention when you’re attending to other things going on around you."
So remind yourself to remain present as you listen, as that'll help you stay focused. And when you're focused, you'll be less likely to interrupt.
3. Wait To Formulate Your Ideas
Interrupting can happen when you're too busy formulating what you're going to say next, instead of actually listening to the conversation at hand. So instead of waiting for your turn to talk, "really tune in and take in what the speaker is saying," Ania Scanlan, MA, a licensed associate marriage and family therapist with Empowered Relationships, tells Bustle. "Let that sink in." Take a beat, and then respond.
4. Look Them In The Eye
Interrupting is more likely to happen when you get in your head and forget you're having a two-sided conversation. If you remember to make eye contact, though, it'll help you connect with the other person in a more meaningful way.
"By looking the person in the eye you send a message to them: I’m paying attention, I care, and I’m listening," Jonathan Alpert, a Manhattan-based psychotherapist, performance coach, and author of Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days, tells Bustle.
You can do this at work, when out with friends, when chatting with your partner — there are so many moment during the day when listening is important. And doing so can help bolster your relationships.
5. Reflect On What They Said
There's another way to give yourself that all-important beat before responding, and it's by "reflecting back the content and emotion of what the speaker is saying first before you reply or contribute," Dea Dean, LPC, a licensed marriage and family therapist and a licensed professional counselor, tells Bustle. "You can concisely summarize what they say and then give them your take or two cents."
This is something you can (and probably should) do even if you don't agree with what's being said, since that's yet another instance when interrupting is more likely to happen.
In fact, "when people feel acknowledged they are more likely willing to be open to hearing your perspective or opinion," Dean says. "When people don’t feel acknowledged they tend to dismiss your following comments or statements as a rebuttal."
6. Don't Make Assumptions
Similarly, "before you enter a conversation, don’t assume you know what the other person or people are going to say, even if you think you know ahead of time," Reshmi Saranga, MD, a psychiatrist and founder of Saranga Comprehensive Psychiatry, tells Bustle. "By not having predefined expectations, you are forcing yourself to listen," as a way to get more information.
This trick can work wonders when it comes to breaking the habit of interrupting. It can be tough at first, especially if you're used to jumping to conclusions. But it's something you can start working on today, and continue to make a priority going into the future.
7. Don't Jump To Solutions
It's common to feel more worried about fixing a problem than to actually sit back and listen to what someone's saying. But if you want to be a better listener, the last thing you'll want to do is glaze over and turn inward, as you search your mind for potential solutions.
"If you do, then you might not be fully listening, because you’re strategizing while they’re talking," Alpert says. "Sometimes what people want, and need, is simply someone to listen and not necessarily find a solution. If they ask for your advice, then that’s a different story and you can provide it."
Even though it might feel strange at first, remember it's always OK to sit and take a breath, before responding.
8. Make It All About Them
It's only natural to want to talk about yourself, or interject with your own ideas. And there's definitely a time and place for that. But if your goal is to listen, you just need to hold off.
Let's say a friend is telling you about a problem they're having. "Rather than thinking about a response, try to understand what they’re going through at an emotional level," Alpert says. "For example, if a friend tells you about losing a job, think about their situation and how it might impact them, not how you would feel if you were in their situation."
This can be a helpful way to break the habit of jumping in to interrupt, or sharing opinions prematurely. Instead, put yourself in their shoes and keep the focus on them for now.
9. Hold Off On The Questions
If you're formulating questions instead of listening, you'll be way more likely to interrupt. So instead of interrogating them, "stay focused on the person in front of you," Alpert says. "Let them talk."
Whether it's a friend who has a lot to get off their chest, or a coworker who is sharing their ideas, try to listen first. As Alpert says, you can always ask questions later.
10. Try The 80/20 Rule
Another helpful trick is the 80/20 rule of communication. "It’s 80% listening to the people you are speaking with, and 20% speaking," Saranga says. "Once you feel yourself crossing the 20% mark, it’s time to slow down and give others a chance to speak."
Keep this in mind in situations where it'll be helpful to listen and gather information, or when someone else has the proverbial floor. You don't have to do it all the time — because your thoughts are valuable, too — but it can come in handy when you're trying to break an interrupting habit, or show someone that you're paying attention.
11. Revel In The Positive Side Effects
To stay motivated and keep up the good work, "consider your conversations as experiments to see how they are different and how your relationships may change when you interrupt less often," Cook says. "See if people respond to you differently and if they start to open up more fully when they’re interacting with you."
When you practice listening — instead of accidentally interrupting all the time — you'll likely notice that all your conversations are a heck of a lot more interesting, and that you connect with folks on much a deeper level. And that's well worth the effort.