Listening patiently in silence is not the best way to help people who want your advice.
Let them ramble — let any of us ramble — and you’ll end up with a truckload of worthless jabber. You need to interrupt strategically.
An internationally known businesswoman — I’ll call her Monica — called me for help in redefining herself. She thought she knew who the new Monica would be, which put her on the wrong foot from the start. Time would show I could do nothing for her.
She told me her history and the kind of work she wanted to do next. I said she was ignoring the unharvested advantages she already possessed. She couldn’t hear me. In her mind, she was moving on to bigger and better things — where she would have no special qualifications and would be a nobody.
Although Monica said it would be fun to undergo my questioning method, she was unable to hear my interruptions as she rambled into wild imaginations about her opportunities.
She had decided to take the plunge, and there was no way to win.
Opportunities to interrupt in a constructive way will normally appear early in a conversation. That’s because most people who seek assistance with their thinking have a fundamental, early mistake circulating in their minds.
Joe and I were trying to reconstruct an important piece of his life’s puzzle. He didn’t know it was missing, and every time I asked him to explain a certain incident, he gave the same answer. This happened four times.
That’s an example of waiting too long to interrupt, but it’s a good picture of the way many people perpetually recycle their thoughts without realizing it. I should’ve stopped Joe during the first repetition and said something like, “Hold on a second. You’ve given me that information.”
Sounds simple, but it’s super easy to miss when you’re listening intently and expecting new information to surface. Many times, an insight will jump out when you interrupt at just right moment — not later.
Consider Joe’s boring first paragraph.
“I visited my mother at her house, and when I got there, I was surprised to find a girl there I didn’t know. I went on in, and it was awful. She treated me terribly, and my mother didn’t do a thing about it. I felt like a stranger.”
An immediate interruption would have been ideal, in my opinion, because the paragraph is too mysterious.
Three possible questions are: “How often did you go to your mother’s house? Where do you think that girl might have come from? What do you mean by awful?”
If you want to help people, you cannot let them talk without direction. To implement a method like the one I’m discussing, you must obtain permission at the outset to interrupt as needed, and then you must listen for when to execute timely interruptions.
The objective is to get the person to see a basic flaw in the thought storm that’s dominating the inner mind. More likely than not, the person’s consciousness is full of a small set of habitual thought clusters during the conversation.
We, in the field of memory, sometimes refer to this as the short-term memory workbench. People who need help with sorting their thoughts are almost always suffering from a workbench cluttered with the same old stuff every time they think about a certain issue.
They can’t build the clear idea they want because they try to do it with the same pieces and in the same way every time.
A tiny, well-placed interruption can clear the entire workbench and make room for fresh thinking. Do not wait for a polite time to interrupt. You already have permission. Here are examples of possibly useful interruptions:
What makes you think that? Say that again. Listen to me repeat what you just told me. That’s a nice thing to say, but nothing else you’re saying points in that direction. Do you realize that what you just said is an exceptionally brilliant point?
I’ll give an example of skillful interruption in the next column and how it helped a man define himself and his new work.
Max T. Russell is owner of Max and Max Communications and formerly taught Spanish in Southern Hancock schools. You can contact him via his website, www.maxtrussell.com.