I must confess, for me it happens more than it should. I like to think that I am exploding with enthusiasm about the topic at hand and need to join in. I like to think I am guiding to dialogue about a different perspective or augmenting the one being discussed. But after doing some reading about interrupting, interrupting is most often not perceived as well intentioned. Generally it is seen as interfering, hindering, trying to take control, or (eek!), just plain rude.

There are many reasons why we need to listen and stop interrupting:

  • In 1995 Haas & Arnold demonstrated that listening is an important component in how people judge communication effectiveness in the work place
  • Bechler & Johnson went on to demonstrate that listening is linked to effective leadership

In my own defense, I can be extraordinarily disciplined in my listening when I make a conscious choice. Like in our interviewing for projects, I am hanging on every word the person who has agreed to talk to us says, I would never dare to interrupt them. I am there to listen and encourage them to talk to their heart’s content. And they do, and they love it. There is hardly an interview completed at PROVOKE when the person who has given us their time, does not thank us for the interview. I know first hand the power of listening, and the positive impact it has in terms of connection, validation and relationship building.

Meekly, I do take some tiny bit of relief in knowing I am not alone (And yes I get that common does not mean right). Research suggests that men interrupt on average within 24-30 seconds of listening to someone, and women interrupt within 30-53 seconds. And on average we interrupt 50% of the time.

Evidence points to this being one of those not so productive habits many of us share more often than we may notice or care to admit, and that few are not guilty of at some point.

So why is it so prevalent?

Our thoughts can move four times faster than speech, so we are only using 25% of our mental capacity. SO what are we going to do with the other 75% of capacity available to us? We get distracted, with our own thoughts/responses. We either totally check out or in effort to remain engaged we start thinking about questions to ask, points to make, suggestions to offer.

We interrupt because most of us have not been taught this specifically (Funny we get lots of training on the outgoing like writing and speaking but not the incoming).

  • Only 2% of us have actually been trained to listen effectively
  • Only 1.5% of articles in business journals deal with listening effectiveness

So, to follow up on my last blog about listening, I thought I would try something new in hopes of creating a new habit.

  • I will listen, without speaking, eye to eye, fully attentive for at least one minute to start (try it, a minute can feel VERY long!), and slowly grow that time to when a person stops talking.
  • My specific strategy is to either take a sip of something when someone talks (extra fun at a dinner party with libations!!), or physically put my hand over my mouth to stop my lips from engaging (I can strike a pose reminiscent of The Thinker pretty well)
  • And when I do speak I engage my PROVOKE skills, and follow up with  comments like “Tell me more” or “What’s next?”.

As leaders, perhaps this is something we can all try. Imagine a client that gets your full, purposeful, intense attention. Or a co-worker, spouse, child, friend… will be interesting to see how people react. I know one thing for sure, it will build more goodwill than you could ever imagine in such a short time.


But they will give you hints! There is a discussion on the Harvard Business Faculty of Research blog, posted by Professor Heskett, around the topic of market research, customer opinion, when to listen, when it’s valuable and when it is not. As with any topic, there is so much room for interpretation and misinterpretation.

PROVOKE’s point of view is that you should always listen to the customer and their opinion. But that doesn’t mean you take marching orders from them or do EXACTLY what they say!  It does mean you have to ask the right questions (be an explorer!) and you must listen with sincerity and perhaps most importantly, with a problem solving and opportunity searching mind-set.

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Henry Ford

PROVOKE conducts two primary types of research: quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative involves mass surveying to identify if your audience hears you, broad perceptions or what is most important to them under current circumstances. Valuable to identify “red flags.”

Qualitative research (our expertise) at its best is one-on-one and reveals the emotion of the audience, motivations, attitudes, behaviors, captures their language (not insider speak), their frustrations, the nuances in their thought process (rational and emotional), and yes, reveals opportunity for innovation that will take the relationship with the customer to a higher and more profitable level.

Many only know and have only experienced quantitative research and rightly conclude that it often leaves one wondering “now what?” Once exposed to the richness of qualitative research, minds are opened, ideas flow and opportunity is captured.

I liken it to health care. Family physician diagnostics equate to quantitative research identifying areas of concern that can either be immediately addressed OR result in a referral to a specialist for further exploration.

Perhaps your organization needs PROVOKE for further exploration to reveal the opportunity that lies ahead!