The Conversation Pause Required for Leaders

The ability of a leader to restrain him or herself from speaking, even for a second, can have a big impact.

And those who can’t hold off on speaking, on interrupting, we know who they are…

…They’re the premature leaners.

…They’re the person who leans into the conversation, not with an attentive ear, but rather, leaning in so they can get the jump on your last syllable.

They lean in so they can seize the next pause, so then they can wax eloquently. (Incidentally, these are the same people who honk their horns nanoseconds after the light has turned green.)

Even without uttering a word, this person, the premature leaner, is an interrupting listener. They interrupt with body language. They communicate through body language that they have something to say, and you should wrap up your talking.

Have you been around this person? I’ve worked with someone who was highly effective and efficient. But every time I talked with them, their body language made me feel rushed. Just the look on their face make me feel as if I should speed up my speaking so they could either talk themselves, or in some cases, just move on.

Often it’s taught to lean in during a conversation to show interest and engagement. But to the person talking, the difference between when you’re leaning in to show connection, and when you’re leaning in because you want to speak is clear.

And typically the interrupting listener’s first words in response to the talker will communicate they weren’t listening at all. They’ll say, “That’s a good idea, but…”.

Are you this person? Can you be this person at times?

I’m guilty of being the premature leaner. The interrupting listener. And the bad news is, if you’re wired to be a leader, you’ll have a propensity to do this too. But, there’s hope.

The difference between an active listener and interrupting listener is simply emotional intelligence. (You can read more about emotionally intelligent leaders and how we allow for “amygdala hijacks” to derail our leadership.) Some people are wired in a way that makes active listening easy, but regardless, emotional or social intelligence is mostly a learned skill…a skill that keeps you from being known as the “interrupter,” or the person who, when leaning in during a conversation, causes everyone at the meeting table to roll their eyes.

Learning this skill is a must for anyone who leads a team.

4 practical takeaways for curbing your conversation response time:

Step 1: Be aware of how you’re listening.

Consider how you’re responding when someone is done talking. You’re likely aware of other people who interrupt you, so learn to be aware of your own tendencies.

Step 2: Get comfortable with silence.

Or at least get comfortable with a pause. Even waiting a second or two can be helpful. And if what you plan to say is worth saying, you’ll still remember it after a few seconds. Sometimes I’m a “premature leaner” simply because I have a thought I want to express before it leaves my brain. But if it’s a worthy comment, it will be there a few seconds later.

Step 3: Establish a few go-to phrases that tells the other person you were listening.

Some options to make your own:

“That’s a good perspective; I haven’t thought of that.”

“Wow, you’ve put a lot of thought into this. Thanks for articulating it that way.”

And of course, repeating back what you heard is a core part of active listening: “I heard you say…”

After each of the responses you give, still pause. Give them even further opportunity to finish what they have to say.

Step 4: Pray about it.

When you look ahead at your day’s meetings or planned conversations, ask God to give you the ability to listen well and the ability to be patient.

The emotionally intelligent leader knows how to pause. He or she knows when leaning in is appropriate, and when instead, it communicates an attitude that says, “What I have to say is better than what you’re saying.”

Pause, lean back, and you’ll be a better leader for it.

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