One Widespread Habit That's Probably Holding You and Others Back

(3 minute read)

Does anyone here have any bad habits?

I did. One that may shock you, given the work I do. You may even recognise yourself when I tell you mine because it really is widespread. In some places it’s reached epidemic proportions.

How did mine start?

My habit probably started early in life, as many habits do, in response to busyness and stress. From parents, schoolteachers, friends and in fact, many others. And as with all habits, we don’t always notice it’s happening. This nasty, destructive habit crept up on me. And it was worse whenever I came into contact with people.

“What was the habit?” I hear you ask.

Well ………….I was …………………

an habitual interrupter!

I had habit of interrupting other people when they were talking. Or just when they were quietly, busily thinking. For example I’d:

  • Finish people’s sentences for them because I thought I knew what the end should be

  • Stop them so I could bring the conversation back to what I thought was interesting

  • Get people to come quickly to the point of what I wanted to hear

  • Draw in my breath ready to fire, ready to speak the moment – or even before – they’d finished speaking

  • Get so excited about the conversation that I had to add my bit – MY ideas, MY advice, MY Insights, which were all SO MUCH better than the person who was speaking at the time.

 Does that sound familiar?

In my early work years I didn’t really notice the habit. Then I became a manager, and probably, no-one dared to tell me. And the irony of it is that my habit really took off when I retrained – as a therapist! So many ways of interrupting! Asking questions, explaining to someone why they felt the way they did, giving them insights with my clever interpretations. And if they went quiet, interrupting that quiet when they were still busy thinking, with a question or an observation that they’d gone quiet!

And then later I trained as an executive coach. A whole new league of interrupting! Offering models, ideas, books, theories… And I had to get the client to stop talking and agree to take action! I just didn’t notice it at the time, but that’s what I was doing. Interrupting. Anything but really listening.

Maybe you think that we therapists and coaches listen a lot. We don’t, believe me. Maybe more than the average person, but we're certainly great at interrupting.

So how did I not notice this habit taking over?

Because most people in my life were doing it! Everyone. In meetings. On the telephone. In interviews. With friends. At home. Teams were doing it. Whole organisations were doing it. The whole of society was doing it.  

Do you do it?!

Does this ring bells for you? Are you an “inhaler”, gasping breath in, when someone is speaking, ready to fire with your ideas or response? Are you a “tailgater”, pushing hard and following hot on the heels of someone, sometimes speaking even before they’ve finished. Or are you a “frowner” when you don’t agree or approve of what they’re saying, as that’s sure to stop them from wittering on?

So why do we it?

Maybe because we think that:

  • Our ideas are better

  • We’re being helpful

  • We know more than they ever could

  • What we have to say is bound to better than what they are about to think or say

 And maybe deep down we’re frightened that others will:

  • Show themselves to be much more clever or witty than us

  • Think we’re not being useful if we don’t give them lots of ideas, helpful suggestions, useful tips.

 But what we’re unwittingly doing is:

  • Potentially making them feel stupid or belittling them

  • Overwhelming and silencing them so they give up

  • Rescuing them (and making ourselves feel good in so doing)

  • Infantalizing them - “you can’t think for yourself so I will do it for you”

  • Competing with them for the best idea

  • Killing their innate creativity

  • Not letting them think for themselves.

Like many people with habits, yours may not be serious enough to worry about. But it just might be. You may not think you have a real problem, or not want to admit it, but I’d stab a bet that if it’s a serious problem your employees, colleagues, clients, partner, friends or kids know. Mine did. They just didn't tell me. I discovered it for myself.

But if you can STOP interrupting you’ll:

  • Find out the whole story instead of making assumptions

  • Be more helpful than if you tell someone what to do or what to think

  • Become much more trusted - and trusting

  • Be calmer and more encouraging

  • Be more likeable, less annoying and less self-centred

  • Be someone that others want to talk to, work with, or be led by

  • Make your meetings run faster and better because the interruptions aren’t halting progress.

 So here are 3 steps to kick the habit

  1. Start noticing how often you and others interrupt and the impact it has – you’ll be staggered

  2. Focus on being INTERESTED not INTERESTING. You can add so much more to the conversation through your attention than your input

  3. Decide to trust that others can think and speak for themselves – after all, don’t you expect them to trust you?

I learned to curb my desires, fight the battle with myself. I learned to wait expectantly because the person had something to say, not patiently so I could nip in and take over. I learned to treat people as genuinely intelligent. I learned that life is better when you don't get interrupted or interrupt others. I also learned that if some people did talk forever, I could ask them return the compliment and give me a turn to speak. They did.

If you’re an interrupter, fear not. There IS help available. Just contact me at if you, your team or your organisation needs to kick the habit!

© Linda Aspey 2018

I’m a leadership and management coach, facilitator, supervisor and professional speaker whose purpose is to be a catalyst for others to flourish. With almost 30 years of experience in understanding what makes people and teams tick, I work with pioneering leaders who want to create exciting, vibrant and nurturing environments where people and results thrive together. I share insights, practices and tools from my work as a qualified therapist, coach and supervisor, enabling you and your team to achieve your personal and professional visions.

Oh and yes, I'm a reformed interrupter.