This article was originally published in Forbes. Read it here!
Many of the clients I work with are surprised to learn that it’s not what they’re saying that’s holding them back -- it’s often what they’re doing.
Here are six common bad habits that undermine personal interactions:
- Interrupting others
- Repeating the same ideas over and over in the same conversation
- Talking over others
- Being too verbose and taking over the conversation
- Glancing at your mobile phone during conversations
- While these six habits take different forms, they’re all direct results of not listening.
Think about it. If you’re interrupting others, you’re not interested in what they’re saying. You’re too much in your own head thinking about what you want to say.
If you’re rambling, you’re hoarding all the conversation time and not giving the other person an opportunity to speak. The same is true with talking over others and being too verbose. When you’re not making space in the conversation for the other person’s ideas and agenda, listening is impossible.
If you’re glancing at your mobile phone, you’re signaling that you have more important things to do than listening.
It’s important to develop awareness about why listening can be a challenge for some people. Many of my clients are verbal processors, so they prefer to talk things out to understand how they think and feel. As a result, some tend to dominate conversations. Others process information quickly and often think they know what the other person is going to say before they say it. The need for speed makes these fast thinkers impatient and prone to the habit of interrupting.
So what’s the solution to overcoming these six bad conversation habits?
Resolve to become a better listener. Raise your awareness about the behaviors that are undermining your personal interactions and eliminate them one by one using these techniques:
1. Be upfront about how you communicate. If you’re a verbal processor, explain to people who are more introverted that you have a need to talk to things out before you know where you stand on an issue. If you want people to talk in bullet points instead of paragraphs, let them know about your preference.
2. Commit to the conversation. This sounds simple and easy, but in these days of endless multitasking, people need to be reminded to stay present in conversations. First, get your mobile phone off the table and out of the way. Consciously slow down your mind and make sure your body language communicates that you’re ready to listen. Throughout the conversation, maintain eye contact and tune into the body language, tone of voice, and the words being used by the speaker.
3. Practice the pause. If you have a habit of interrupting others before they’re finished speaking, challenge yourself to count to five before you respond. This discipline will ensure that the other person has finished relaying their thoughts before you begin sharing yours. It also has the added benefit of giving the impression that you’re carefully reflecting on what they just said.
4. Summarize what you heard, and ask questions. Confirm that you understood what was said by repeating it: “What I’ve heard you saying is X, Y, Z. Have I heard you correctly?” Wait for a nod or verbal affirmation. Ask questions that do not have a judgmental tone, like “Interesting; can you tell me more?” Questions are useful for demonstrating that you are engaged in the conversation.
5. Corral your thoughts. Use the pause to organize your own thoughts so you can speak succinctly. Listen to yourself and rein in your talking when you hear yourself repeating ideas. Get into the habit of stating your point, providing facts or details to support it, and then restating your point one last time. Then, intentionally stop yourself from doing more talking to give the other person a chance to respond.
6. Use visual cues. Put an object that symbolizes your goal to become an effective listener on your desk as a reminder of your intention. On my desk, I have a pink crystal cut with many facets to remind me to listen to the many facets that someone has.
7. Let others speak first. If you know you tend to be a conversation hog, let other people start with their agendas before moving to yours. This practice will guarantee that they get the time they need and, as time may be limited, will require you to be more focused in your communications. It may also be useful to track how much time you’re speaking in meetings so you can measure your progress in relinquishing the floor.
Once you begin the process of intentionally improving your interpersonal interactions, consider asking team members if they’ve noticed any difference in your behavior. Asking the question creates awareness in others that you’re working to develop better communication habits; it also causes them to reflect on how you have changed for the better.
My best advice for becoming an inspiring leader? Find ways to talk less and listen more. You’ll deepen your relationships, expand your influence and achieve the kind of results that will make you a stand-out performer.