The unpleasant habit of cutting others short

A woman chatting with a man.

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A friend recently recounted a story that brought to the fore why it is important to develop good listening skills, to patiently listen until the end.

Or, more specifically, why it is not advisable to assume that you know what the other person is about to say, and so you interrupt this person to pre-empt what you assume he or she is going to say. This behaviour, as you will see, can land you in trouble that you could have avoided in the first place.

About a year ago, this friend applied for a day off, explaining to her boss that she wanted to attend a close relative’s funeral. In truth, a longtime friend of hers who lived abroad was visiting, and this particular day was the only one she was available before returning to her adopted country. This friend figured it would have been highly unprofessional to ask for a day off to lunch with a friend, and so she had lied.

The two met at a certain fancy restaurant in Kilimani that was popular then and proceeded to catchup, laughing out loud from time to time to some of the memories they shared. Towards the end of the long meal, this lying friend looked up, only to spot her boss two tables away.

She was in a group that had just stood up to leave. In that moment of panic, this friend swore that her boss looked right at her and frowned, a displeased look on her face. She could not stop shaking, sure that the following day she would find a suspension memo in her email, or worse.

As happens with guilty people who are caught red-handed doing what they’re not supposed to do, she reported to work earlier than she normally did, way before reporting time, hoping to appease the person she had wronged.

Lo and behold! There was no memo waiting and when her boss came in, she greeted her and others as she jovially did before going into her office.

Puzzled, and apprehensive, she could barely bring herself to work, still waiting to be reprimanded. Late into the day, the call she had been dreading finally came in. Her boss wanted to see her in her office. She knocked on the door timidly and her boss cordially invited her to get in and have a seat.

“Salome, I want us to discuss…” her boss began, only for her to cut her short and say, “Catherine, before you say anything, I want to apologise for yesterday, it was unprofessional of me, and I apologise, and promise never to repeat it again…”.

She was so engrossed in her unsolicited apology she failed to notice the puzzled look her boss was giving. She went on to add that she had seen the disappointed look her boss had given her at the restaurant and hoped that she would find it in her to give her another chance, after all, she was a good worker, only that she had made that one wrong judgement. It is at the mention of the restaurant that it finally dawned on her boss what she was going on about.

“So…you lied about that funeral…” her boss commented.

Turned out that her supervisor had not even seen her, and that she had called this friend to her office to discuss an assignment she wanted her to take charge of. At that moment, this friend could have kicked herself were it possible. She had just revealed a sin that only she had known about.

Though her boss let the matter go, their relationship has never been the same again. It is somewhat strained and more guarded, such that she’s contemplating getting another job. I’m not justifying what she did, all I’m saying is that it is important to allow others to have their say.

And since we’re talking about skilled listening, are you one of those people that cut others short and finish their thoughts for them? If you are, this is not only a bad habit, it is also irritating and disrespectful.

From experience, this especially often happens at workplaces, where colleague will interrupt you midway your contribution to a discussion and try to steal your thunder. If this describes you, a new year is a good time to stop this unpleasant habit.

The writer is editor,  Society andMagazines, Daily Nation.   Email: [email protected]  


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