Without doubt, listening is the number one skill to improve both your emotional intelligence and communication skills. For me, listening and not interrupting has been a huge challenge that I have attacked over the past few years. I am happy to say that I have made great strides, but I also know how much more improvement I need.
I want to dispel the notion that people who interrupt are rude and don’t care what you have to say. On the contrary, I usually interrupt during a conversation because I am so excited to communicate a point that I fear I will forget what I want to say. Yes, fear. And, forget.
I used to think that this was just my failing, a lingering symptom of an illness I suffered. However, I learned from Mark Robert Waldman, a leading expert on communication and author (with Andrew Newberg) of Words Can Change Your Brain: 12 Conversation Strategies to Build Trust, Resolve Conflict, and Increase Intimacy, that recent studies show that most everyone has a window of attention of 4 to 7 concepts or about 10 words in a conversation. Wow. So it is not just me. It is everyone! Our brains have a capability of remembering about 10 of the last few words in a conversation.
Moreover, the speed of conversation affects comprehension. Faster speech reduces communication. The take away here is SPEAK SLOWLY and allow breaks for your counterpart to respond timely.
Luckily, there are many techniques to improve your listening and, hence, communication. One mantra I use to control my interruptions is, “listen to learn not respond.” Mark Robert Waldman recommends using his 10/10 method for communicating important points with brevity. In the 10/10 method, each person gets 10 words – one per finger (!) – to communicate their point. By raising a finger counting each word spoken, your brain is forced to slow down and select the most succinct word to communicate your point in the allotted 10 words. This not only slows down the pace of communication, increasing comprehension, but also reduces unnecessary verbosity to brief points.
Remember, emailing and texting are inferior communication mediums as there are misinterpretations due to the absence of facial emotion cues, tone, disposition, and body gestures. Next time you are in a conversation, practice listening. Or, talk to your partner about trying Waldman’s 10/10 exercise.