How and Why to Bite Your Tongue

Don’t interrupt. It’s obvious; we know. Still it’s very difficult.  I speak from personal experience—after decades of paying attention to how important it is to wait until the other person is finished, I often cut them off anyway. I find it especially difficult to remember around friends and family.

According to Deborah Tannen, the linguist and author, some of us—me included—have a “high involvement” communication style. We “overlap” the other person’s speech. This can work—if the person you’re talking with has a similar style. And if what they’re talking about is more informational than deeply emotional.

Others have a “high considerateness” style. These people generally seek more clear pauses and want more order to the conversation.

Talking when you should be listening. Teaching when learning would serve you better.

In most cases it would be more respectful and helpful if I listened, instead of talked and learned, instead of tried to teach.

Why do we interrupt?

It can be helpful to identify what causes your interruptions:

•Are you trying to be supportive? To show you understand what the speaker is saying?
•Are you feeling crunched for time? Trying to move the conversation along?
•Are you more interested in sharing what you know rather than learning?
•Are you trying to show your expertise? Prove something?
•Are you worried that you’ll forget what you were going to say, if you wait until the other person is finished speaking?

Some things to try:

1. Notice when you interrupt

When you cut someone off, stop (even mid-sentence) and say something like: “sorry; I really want to hear what you have to say.” (This new habit will take time to develop and some courage.)

2. Enlist family or friends to help

Ask people you trust to respectfully remind you when you’ve cut them off. Ask for a do-over.

3. Create a cue to remind yourself

Sometimes sticky notes can help-in your car, on your bathroom mirror, at your desk at work. Find a word or phrase that you’ll be comfortable with others seeing—maybe “listen” or “pause.”

4. Track your progress

Initially just notice and count the number of times each day that you interrupt someone.
After a week or so, set a realistic goal and acknowledge your progress.
Some people find that self-acknowledgment works even better coupled with a reward.

When we click off or tune out before we’re sure we’ve heard and understand the speaker’s entire message, we cut ourselves off from some potentially useful information or insights. And, interrupting is not only disrespectful to the person being interrupted, but hurts you as the leader or manager. Sure, some of your team may be thick-skinned and more Teflon like. Others, though, will be put off and therefore less productive, loyal, or creative. Call or email us if you want to increase your positive connection with your team or just plain want to improve your listening skills.

Listening Strategy Number 2- Reflective Listening

Continuing on our recent theme of listening: here’s another strategy that is easy to implement and can make a big difference. You have probably heard the term “Active Listening”—repeating key pieces of a talker’s message to confirm you are listening and understand. Reflective Listening is similar but adds a dose of curiosity and mindfulness. This higher-quality listening can save time, prevent future misunderstandings or mistakes, and create stronger team loyalty.

So what is reflective listening?

When you’re reflectively listening, you’re seeking to understand a speaker’s thought or idea, then offering their idea back in your own words to confirm you’ve understood correctly. You also try to imagine and reflect back what’s beneath their words—to reflect what the speaker is feeling as well as thinking.

How to reflectively listen:

• After listening, use your own words to repeat key points you think the person was attempting to make.
• Check with them to be certain you’ve heard them correctly.
• If they explain that you don’t quite have it, repeat back your corrected understanding.
• Share your impressions of what seems to feel emotionally important to them.


• “I hear that you are concerned about my suggestion that we shut our doors to reduce distractions. It’s clear this is very important to you.”
• “It sounds to me like you are frustrated about my response this past week.”
• “Let me reflect what I heard. You think we could generate revenue by adding a service to our estimate process. You have an idea how this could be simple and not take much time. You haven’t nailed down the details yet, but you’d like my initial thoughts to help guide your next steps.”

 “I also hear that you are worried your idea will be rejected because you don’t have the details spelled out.”

Caveat: Too busy?

The time you spend listening and reflecting will avoid wasting time sorting out misunderstandings and missteps after the fact.

It’s this easy:
• Take a breath and pay attention to quickly confirm any main points or ideas.
• Deliberately scan and confirm each key concept.
• Keep your review and reflections short and efficient. Avoid long monologues, open-ended questions, and new topics.

Recall Practice
Initially, you can try recall sessions to practice reflecting. (adapted from a book-in-progress that Jay and I are working on)

If you can’t find time to practice in real-time during your work day, sitting at your desk, or on your drive home, take time to think through a conversation you had during the day. Then reflect out loud what you didn’t feel like you had time to say on the spot.

With a bit of practice, you will be able to reflectively listen without appreciably slowing down conversations—you’ll save misstep-time with a minimal investment in reflecting-time.

• “Let me be sure I understand. You are planning to call the client and set up a meeting to talk about the problem, but you are worried that we don’t really have a good path to correct the issue.”
• “Am I hearing concern that you will be blamed?”

If no examples come to mind, you might ask yourself one of these questions to stimulate reflections:

• What did I slide over that might be worth thinking about or revisiting?
• What did she say that I might not be positive I heard fully?
• What was the emotional tone of the conversation?
• Did I really understand what was important to them?

Your awareness will be enhanced by just considering questions—eventually you will tend to notice those things you have asked yourself questions about.

When you are trying to strengthen a relationship, reflecting deeper messages or emotions can communicate that you respect the speaker and value their ideas. Email or call 978-446-9600 if you want to save time avoiding missteps, create a stronger connection with your team, build a more fun and interesting place to work, learn how to enhance your relationships at work (and as a natural byproduct with family and friends).

Why You Should Listen More Than You Talk

Of the relationship-enhancing skills our clients practice getting better at, listening is often the one that makes the biggest difference—whether you’re trying to acquire or keep a client, solve a problem, or build a culture of productivity and autonomy.

Listening strategy number one—Listen more than you talk.


• If you understand what motivates people, you will understand how to more effectively influence them. You get that information by listening.

• People are more likely to listen carefully to you, if they know you have listened carefully to them.

• Everyone likes to be listened to. So listen and people will feel more positive, and that makes them more productive and open to new ideas.

• People virtually never get bored when they’re talking about themselves. In a conversation where you are listening to them, they will tend to remember you as interesting. And interesting makes you memorable.

But aren’t people paying to get my expertise; my answers to professional questions? Don’t they care if I’m well informed and knowledgeable? Yes, and:

• Yes, they are. And they can hear you best after they’re sure you understand them and what they’re concerned about. After they are convinced you respect and even care about them as individuals.

• Rebalancing your talking to listening ratio opens the door to people being able to hear your professional guidance.

But what if I’m getting bored?

• First remind yourself that this is about them not you. Then:

• Try asking a question. A truly curious question is a great demonstration that you’re listening. So ask and then listen some more.

What if they have misunderstood something and I need to correct it?

• Wait for them to stop talking—be certain it is a stop not just a pause.

• Then give them a quick update and ask if they want to know more about it. If they don’t, listen some more.

What if they ask a question?

• Give a brief answer.

Know that the odds are your brief answer is too long for them. Try making one quick point and ask if that answers their question.

The odds are also great that they didn’t make their real question clear or you misunderstood it to start with.
Primarily you need to remind yourself that a question shouldn’t change the ratio of listening to talking.

A heads up:

• Most people badly misjudge how much of the time they talk versus listen. Most men have a tendency to both talk more and judge their ratio of talk to listening more poorly than most women.


• Consciously try to listen twice as much as you talk. If in doubt, you’re probably talking too much.

• Put a reminder in front of you.

“Listen more!” is one possibility.
“What subtle information did you miss?” Might tweak your awareness to listen more.
“Ask curious questions.” Is another possibility.
“Listened lately?” is a bit more in your face.

• Use your phone’s stopwatch function to track when you’re talking—start this with a trusted colleague or in team meetings and tell everyone what you’re doing. Your activity will remind everyone to only say what’s important, and to listen! Tracking any behavior tends to keep it more front and center in your mind.

Bottom Line:

You can virtually never get into trouble listening.

Want to be better than just not getting in trouble? Listen even some more. Our clients have told us that the active practice they get in meetings with us, as well as being accountable, has helped vastly increased their listening skills—resulting in more clients, more satisfaction among their team, and more pleasure for them going to work each day.

Call or email us if you think it would be useful to move your communication skills forward.

Change with Almost No Effort

Self-discipline is an important component of change, but in certain circumstances you can alter your behavior without using much of your precious discipline-energy at all.

You can institute changes, often with very little effort or even awareness, if you simply adjust the way you arrange your organization system, office, or car.

Change the Physical Environment

Try to physically position things so that the habit you’re trying to develop has no roadblocks. When you feel an urge, you want to be able to follow through with next to no effort, no thought, no decisions, and very little chance of a detour.

Goal: Keep a to-do list

Physical Change: Keep your to-do list within the “easy-reach” zone on top of your desk, in your pocket, or on your phone. Have the most current items visible so you don’t have pages to turn or screens to click through. If you plan to use paper, always keep a pen where you never have to reach for it. If your list is electronic, keep it open and waiting, certainly no more than one click away.

Goal: Exercise regularly

Physical Change: Keep your workout clothes out and visible, your socks with your shoes, the shirt with the shorts or pants. If the weather is getting cool, keep your shell with the rest of your clothes.

Goal: Pay bills on time

Physical Change: Put bills to be paid in a prominent place with a large label where it will be visible to you from a regular route you use in your office or home. The best place is often right next to the place you’re going to pay them.

Goal: Start online work you’ve resisted doing

Physical Change: Put a prominent link on your computer or smartphone for any online task you might resist doing.

Use the opposite approach when you’re trying to break a current habit.

Goal: Change your snack habits

Physical Change:  Don’t place snack items where they’re visible or reachable (think obvious, handy, convenient, efficient); you’re more likely to eat more. Place them at the back of the office fridge, in a closed cabinet or drawer that isn’t in reach of your desk.

Goal: Ignore email when concentrating

Physical Change: Turn off email reminders. This is equivalent to making them less visible.

Goal: Don’t get caught by the Internet

Physical Change: Delete any “favorites,” desktop links, or other saved links that lead to entertaining or distracting web addresses. The little extra effort of having to type the address will slow down your impulse to visit the site.

Jay is an expert at helping clients come up with simple ideas and small useable steps to implement the changes they want to make. If there are things you’d like to change in your work or personal life, call or email us.

Rating of Perceived Effort

Change is simple, but not easy. But approach change correctly and “not easy” can become “easier than it once was” and eventually even “normal effort.”

Jay had fun this winter working with a professional bicycling coach. His goal is to be able to ride hundred mile events (Centuries) with more speed and less fatigue. His coach, a former pro cyclist—Sara Bresnick of Pedal Power Coaching—regularly assigns workouts and Jay sends her digital data from his riding sessions and rates his perceptions of the effort required to do aerobic or strength intervals. There is a standard RPE (Rating of Perceived Effort) scale that he compares his efforts to—from #1=“I’m watching TV and eating bonbons” to # 9=“I’m probably going to die”. Number ten on this scale is “I’m dead.”

Assigning a specific rating number to your effort can help clarify just how hard you are working. It moves the conversation from “This is too much work!” to “This is this much work.” If you want to change your capacity to put out effort, you need to invest in practice that stretches you and challenges your current abilities. This is true whether you want physical endurance, the persistence to keep trying a new behavior or the consistent patience needed to influence other peoples’ habits.

Strength and endurance are built through challenges that ask a bit more than your body, emotions or mind is currently accustomed to. Too big a challenge causes a level of exhaustion that requires a long recovery. In the case of emotional or willpower exhaustion this dramatically increases the likelihood that you will fail to manage your behavior. For example, if you’re trying to remember to ask more questions instead of just giving advice or information, you’re more likely to go back on autopilot and forget to focus on your curiosity. Or if you’re trying to control your irritation, you may blow it.

Too little challenge and the increase in your ability will be so slow that you are more likely to give up or forget to keep trying. In the end, your capacity remains the same. The trick is to challenge yourself at a level of moderate effort—“I’m mostly comfortable, but this is taking some effort and careful thought.” This is the equivalent of physical exercise where you are still able to talk, but are aware you’re breathing harder.

It may help you get a feeling for where you are and what you’re willing to do to move forward, if you compare yourself to a perceived effort rating scale.

Here’s a possibility:

1. I’m cruising along as usual.
2. I’m staying well within my comfort range.
3. I’m comfortable, but I’m pushing myself a bit.
4. I’m mostly comfortable, but this is taking some effort and careful thought. (This is an effort that builds capacity.)
5. I’m outside my comfort zone and feeling some stress. (This begins interval training.)
6. I’m outside my competency zone and feeling moderate stress.
7. I’m tired from all the thinking, planning and remembering it’s taking to stay on track.
8. I’m tired and need a break real soon.
9. I’m working so hard at this that I can’t think about anything else. I feel like I’m going to lose it.
10. I can’t think and feel only confused and frustrated.

Last year Jay rode his bicycle club’s Spring Century for the second year in a row. He was dreading a hill that occurred around mile 85, after almost six hours of riding. The first year he had struggled up this hill in his lowest gear and occasionally wondered if he was going to have to stop. Last year he kept waiting and waiting for the hill to appear. When he was at mile 90 plus he realized that he had gone over the hill and not even recognized it. With practice, a 9 had become a 6.

How much energy are you really investing in your own or your company’s progress? How much are you willing to invest to get the outcomes you want?

We can help you identify changes you are ready to tackle—for you, your business or your team. Then we can design specific steps that will increase your capability and the perception of effort required to reach your goals. Coaching makes it easier than going it alone. Give us a call to discuss next steps.

Small Changes Lead to Big Results

Many of us want to change a habit. We want to lose weight, procrastinate less, stop smoking, exercise more, be more disciplined about our spending, get less irritated with people, and so on.

Instead of tackling a new change head on, you can start to exercise your self-discipline muscle in small, consistent ways that don’t seem obvious. For example, if I’m trying to get myself to spend less money, I can build my discipline muscle by resisting my chocolate craving by 10 minutes.

In other words, if you practice changing one habit, it can carry over to changing another habit. This builds a base from which to make other changes. If you teach yourself to wait to eat the chocolate, you are teaching yourself to control an impulse.  If you keep this up, you build increased ability to resist the urge to do things the old way. You can start by pushing back against a small established habit.

  • Spend 5 minutes thinking about tomorrow’s projects
  • Resist checking emails or texts for a couple of minutes when you normally would
  • Stall for five minutes when you want a snack, coffee, cigarette or game of “Angry Birds”
  • Park slightly farther away in the lot
  • Take a different route to work
  • Brush your teeth with your opposite hand
  • Turn off the radio, music and TV and allow your world to be quiet for a few minutes while exercising, driving or walking

There are countless other possibilities; try ideas that feel interesting or of value. Just keep them small and easy to do. The idea is to practice light repetitions that require increased focus; don’t strain yourself.

If you want to increase performance on the job, in a sport, or in your personal life, we can help you stay on track.

If Only You Had

Is your goal to have a complete picture of everything you did that caused you to misstep? Or is it to improve your performance next time?

Don’t be seduced by the temptation to dissect your latest failure down to its bowels and then beat yourself up for the collapse of your grand plans. Keep in mind the outcome you want – an even better performance next time. To achieve this end you do need to take a clear eyed look at your performance, which will include your failings and weaknesses. And then you need to scan for evidence of strengths you can build on.

The balance of your time, attention and interest needs to be on how you might improve your next performance and that is about “If only I had” rather than “If only I hadn’t.” By looking at what you might do differently you’re ready to notice new solutions, to be more open to new ways of thinking and to start to move toward success rather than to get stuck in critical self-flagellation.

Take three steps:

1.    Review your actions and attitude that accompanied the breakdown
2.    Consider what you might have done differently to produce a success
3.    Practice the new action and attitude before they’re needed

In order to be an effective coach for yourself in the heat of your next disappointment, prepare a simple coaching prompt that encourages you to keep looking forward. Think about the situation where you might use a prompt and practice saying it until you are sure it will remind you of exactly what you need to do.

•    The coaching prompt might be – “If only I had”
•    Use it when you feel yourself getting caught by feelings of self-recrimination, disappointment or discouragement.
•    “If only I had” “If only I had” – “I need to let the failure go and think about what I could have done differently.”

Practice can of course be actual physical, out-loud verbal or visualization and internal. Remember, if you recently failed to achieve what you think was a realistic goal, in the process you practiced an ineffective action or approach. So you will be ready to use it automatically next time, you need to invest some time practicing a different approach.

Often having a coach to practice with makes all the difference. We’re here to help.