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Effective communication in the workplace
Effective communication in the workplace

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2.2 Tactics to avoid interrupting

Try to minimise your interruptions to the speaker’s narrative. If you interrupt, even with a relevant point, the speaker will then have to pick up the threads of what they had originally been saying. We have all been in a position when someone says ‘What I was saying was...’, or ‘the point I was trying to make was….’ and then repeats a lot of things they have already told you.

Much of our time spent listening to people is actually taken up with rehearsing what you are going to say when it is your turn to speak. When you have sorted that out in your head, the temptation is to say it as soon as possible so that you don’t forget. But you should resist this impulse. Taking notes can help – jotting down points that you want to respond to takes the pressure off trying to remember them and allows you to focus on listening.

A photograph of someone listening to their colleague.
Figure 4 An example of listening.

Having your lips apart and leaning towards someone conveys the message that you want to say something, and speakers may respond to this by stopping and letting you talk instead. So, one simple technique is to keep your mouth physically closed and lean slightly back in your seat (but not too far, you still want to demonstrate your interest). If you find it difficult to stop yourself saying something, rest your chin lightly on your hand.

Some interruptions can be helpful. For example, if you are not clear about something then you need to let the speaker know. You should do this as soon as possible because the longer the situation goes on, the longer it will take to put right.

Active listening is also about patience – accepting pauses and short periods of silence. Don’t be tempted to jump in with questions or comments every time there are a few seconds of silence. Active listening involves giving the other person time to explore their thoughts and feelings.