anonymous switches

It is very difficult to write about this. I’m Cathy Graham. I am a switch. It’s been 3 hours since my last outage. So the other switches are saying, so what? I’m sure you have something important to say. What is the problem?

Its a big problem. He closes the door. He says that my idea or thought or rebuttal is more important than his idea or thought. I’m not saying that I’m the only one to blame. We are a society of switches. Every good political debate, decent reality show, and “60 Minutes” investigation usually involves someone interrupting someone else. Shame on all of us.

Some of you are not switches. Thank you. Thanks for your patience and forgiveness. For the rest of us, those of us who will admit we have a problem, let me give you some pointers on how to get to the other side.

1. Hear. I know I’ve written about this before, but it can’t be overstated. Actively listen and stop letting your mind wander into the rebuttal war zone and/or watch your watch so you can pretend you are really listening. Hmm. I let my coworker do the talking for at least 2 minutes so now is the time to step in. Arrest. Turn on all receivers.

2. to digest. Take in the conversation or discussion. If it’s a team meeting, take it all in. Try to get a complete picture of the point of view of the other participants. Is your teammate telling you that he can’t finish the project? Or was it simply not done in the parameters that the team wanted? Or by the deadline you initially agreed to? Take into account every detail. Knowing all the details will help you in the end, and the rest of the team will be impressed with your knowledge of the facts and details (pretty good, huh?).

3. Lay off. Stay away from making assumptions. This is dangerous territory. If you are assuming, then you are not digesting. There’s no way you can read another person’s mind. You may have a good guess about someone else’s motivation, but you can’t be sure. His boss may have shot this idea down ten times before, but assuming that he is now shooting him down puts him on the defensive and strikes the match for interrupting. Lay off all their beliefs and assumptions. Actually.

4. Break. As in, wait a minute to pick cotton. Okay, maybe not a minute, but wait 5 seconds. Let there be some air in the room. Everyone take a breath. Don’t sit around ready to dismiss and/or shoot down any idea that just popped up. Pause and breathe. And if someone else jumps in, this is your chance to learn patience (not my strong suit… this is where I struggle). Turn on listening mode and bite your tongue.

5. Altruistic. It’s about them. Unless this is their wedding day, Eagle Scout induction, or their retirement luncheon, it’s always about them. Them, as in, everyone else in the room; your teenage daughter, your boss, your co-worker, the soccer team or the class. If you keep them as your focus, you will slowly eliminate the number of interrupts you are doing. If you can keep your focus on them, on their ideas; you will break your habit.

6. rinse and repeat. Just as your shampoo bottle recommends. Just keep going. There will be times when this is irresistible. Like when someone tries to tell me that Napa Valley has the best Zinfandels. I just need to smile and listen patiently and choke back the words that want to vomit. May they have their peace. Let them impart their knowledge. When a manager tries to explain to me an employment law that I know inside out, as well as the latest regulations, I smile and let them do their part. I’m not going to say that I’m not going to say anything. But if they ask? Sonoma Valley Old Vine is the best, IMHO. But what do you gain by interrupting to grant that fact. Unless you’re tasting wine or buying a winery, let them have their way.

I find this to be especially effective with hot topics like politics, religion, and most sporting events (my college Alma Mater is worth interrupting). I will say that when I listen patiently, smile, and acknowledge others in a heated debate or team discussion, it really enhances your reputation. People gravitate towards the person listening rather than trying to interrupt. So if you have a habit, acknowledge it and start working on it. You will be on your way to becoming a social tycoon.

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