Mentally, I prepared myself for two drastically different possibilities — either she was going to tell me what an awesome job I was doing and how grateful she was to have me on the team, or she was going to let me know that I was incompetent and awful and that I was going to need to head home and start my search for a new gig.
Your brain can be cruel, can’t it?
But, despite my frantic internal monologue, she began with, “There’s this thing you do that’s somewhat irritating.”
My mind immediately began replaying our conversation, scanning for any moments when I was feverishly clicking my pen or smacking my gum.
“You complete my sentences,” she finished, stopping my racing mind right in its tracks.
The Urge to Complete Sentences
Once my boss had provided me with that brutal reality check, I instantly recognized that she was right — I often rushed to finish her thoughts, without giving her a chance to do so herself.
In my mind, this was an effective way to show that I was actively engaged in the conversation — and even that I was a top-notch employee who was always a step ahead of her. But, to my boss? Well, I was only failing to listen and cutting her off instead.
“It’s not the end of the world,” she continued, as I stood there slack-jawed and second guessing the entire way I communicated, “But, it’s something I’d like you to work on moving forward.”
Resisting the Temptation
Starting then and there, I vowed that I would undo this obnoxious communication habit. And, as soon as I was made aware of my tendency to do this, I realized just how often I was tempted to jump in and finish someone else’s thought — I quite literally had to bite my tongue for the first several weeks.
As tough as it was to put an end to this faux pas, I managed to do so using one simple trick: waiting a little bit longer to speak.
I would consciously stay quiet until that person had finished his or her sentence, and then wait for another second or two to ensure he or she wasn’t going to jump in with anything else. Once it was clear that my partner was passing the conversational ball over to me, I’d start speaking — then and only then.
The longer I did this, the easier and easier it became to stop cutting people off. And, fortunately, I’m to a point now where it’s no longer something I need to actively think about.
Does this mean that I’m a flawless communicator who absolutely never interrupts? Definitely not — I’m only human, after all. But, I like to think that I’m much better than I used to be.
Over to You
I’m sure I’m not the only one to fall victim to this conversational faux pas. So, I challenge you to pay attention to the way that you’re communicating and see if you also have the tendency to finish other people’s sentences for them.
If you do? Try my trick of taking a slightly longer pause before you start speaking. It’ll feel unnatural at first. But, before long, you’ll squash that habit — and avoid annoying your colleagues!
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.