Whether you know it or not, you have probably done so on more than one occasion. In fact, we all have.
Your body language or facial expressions probably won’t be as obvious as it is in the image. In fact, to the outside observer it may even seem like you are still in a conversation. It might appear to the speaker that they are talking and you are listening. You might even think you are listening.
However, while you may be hearing the words as they are spoken, unless you are sincerely giving consideration to anything being said you are not actually listening.
It doesn’t matter whether you intended to stop the conversation or not.
And it doesn’t matter whether people are still speaking.
The conversation, for all practical purposes, is indeed over.
Why does this matter?
Because failing to be aware of how you might be stopping a conversation while it appears to continue can be very costly in terms of BOTH relationships AND progress.
Yet in the moment you might be completely unaware of what is happening. The behaviors I am about to point out happen so automatically for most of us that they are often a blind spot.
The good news is awareness of a blind spot is the first step in eliminating it. Once you are aware of it, and clear about the cost of continuing the behavior (or at least failing to recognize it in yourself or others and interrupt it), you have a choice. Until you are aware of these particular blind spots and choose to do something about them, they are likely to continue to inhibit relationships and progress at best and damage them at worst.
There are a number of thought patterns that can stop a conversation in its tracks. I call these “conversation stoppers”. You might also refer to them as communication blind spots. They are some of the key impediments to effective communication.
Below are the 3 most common “Conversation Stoppers”.
As you read through them consider which one(s) might be a blind spot for you.
1. I Know
“I Know That” is one of the biggest barriers to effective communication. You don’t even need to say the words. As soon as you start thinking “I already know that” or “I know better than they do” or any variation on the theme, listening has ceased. Unfortunately in that moment so has the opportunity to understand, discover or learn anything that could make a difference. When you “know” there is no room for another person to make a meaningful contribution to you.
In that moment, while it may be appropriate to dispel your knowledge, be aware that a conversation in which any 2-way exchange of information will occur has ceased. You may need to openly say that so the other person shifts their expectations or they are likely to experience being held hostage by a lecture.
2. I Am Right
If you are right there is only one option for the person speaking – they must be wrong. If further words are exchanged there is only one likely outcome: an argument or debate for which there is a winner and a loser. With attention on winning it is unlikely anything of value will be exchanged, unless, of course, you consider winning to be valuable.
Otherwise, by default you leave feeling like the “victor” and the other person likely leaves less than satisfied and perhaps even feeling diminished or dismissed. If you notice you are being right about something, the best thing to do is own it out loud so you can start listening again. Or you could go on pretending to listen. Your choice.
3. What They Are Saying is of No Value
Explaining why this is a conversation stopper is probably not necessary. When this happens though, it is useful to consider if you have made this assessment of the person or simply of what they are saying on this occasion.
If it is an assessment of the person there is probably not much they can say that would be of value to you. If the choice to no longer interact with this person is not an option, then you have some work to do to discover something of value they can offer. This requires you to consider they do have a contribution to make and to choose to be curious about what that could be. The alternative is to keep tolerating and/or dismissing them. While that may be the easier or even the preferred choice, consider the potential cost and choose.
On the other hand, if you value the person, just not what they are talking about in this moment, there is one simple way to restart the conversation… ASK A QUESTION!
Get curious about what could be of value. You may simply need to redirect the conversation to help the speaker connect with what is important to you. Or you may find it is time to officially end the conversation. Either way the choice is simple – engage with curiosity or officially end the conversation because it is already over anyway. Why waste everyone’s time?
As I reflect on my own experience being on both sides of these conversation stoppers, it occurs to me that a commitment to being mindfully curious and open may just be a key to effective communication, not to mention a satisfying conversation for all involved. Besides, if you are going to be in any conversation, why not mine for the gold?
What do you think?
A special thanks to Dev Ashish Dhiman (@devashishdhiman) for asking the question that prompted this article!