Don’t make me interrupt you!

A good conversation is often like a game of ping-pong — the ball goes back and forth with a steady rhythm. Speak, PAUSE, speak, PAUSE, etc… but, when you fail to pause after a thought, it’s like you just threw a basketball on the ping-pong table… and your boss is thinking:

  • “Uggh, I bet he does this when talking to our customers also.”
  • “F*ck, I bet he’s annoying everyone else in the company.”
  • “What am I going to do with this guy?!”

talking too much?We’ve all over-explained because when in the presence of power, we tend to babble. In the business world this usually takes the form of unnecessary explanation of details. Details are important, but the babbling of them is an inappropriate form, usually delivered at an inappropriate time. Don’t.

Don’t explain unless asked. Think rhythm instead and be a pro! STOP, PAUSE… Keep it short and you send this unspoken message, “I trust you to ask the right questions at the right time.” If instead, you dump all you’ve got on your listener, you’re implying, “You don’t get it and I’m going to smarten you up!”

are you repeating yourself?Here’s a real-life example of over-explanation. All he needed to say was “Thanks for the advice. I’ll be on top of it by the 15th!” This worthless babble is what he actually wrote:

Thanks for the advice on inetwork and the other stuff. I will need a week or two more to get on top of inetwork…..Over the last 10 days, other priorities have kept me from jumping on that…..My projects combined with assuming Isabelle’s job and WebFarmers have me overloaded right now. I think it’s fantastic that we have Isabelle focused on where the money is, and I’m extremely willing to contribute by taking on the additional work. I just ask for your patience…some of the smaller stuff is not going to get done immediately…. And, Jack, please don’t respond with your blame/responsibility shtick…..”

Consider how long it took him to write this email, instead of the short powerful email he could have written. Consider that this is a typical communication, and he largely spends his days communicating messages like this, and begin to see: he could probably get ten times more done every day if he was communicating better.

This is how we make the jump from being worth $100,000 a year to creating the kind of value that is worth $1 million a year. Don’t over-explain. The efficiency of competitive sports is a useful comparison. Imagine a footballer in the world cup, running down the field, who stops to tell his coach:

Thanks for the advice on passing the ball and the other stuff. I will need a week or two more to get on top of my kick…..Over the last 10 days, other priorities have kept me from jumping on that…..My projects combined with covering for the fullback and the new halfbacks have me overloaded right now. I think it’s fantastic that we have new attacks focused on where the goal is, and I’m extremely willing to contribute by taking on the additional work. I just ask for your patience…some of the smaller stuff is not going to get done immediately…. And, coach, please don’t respond with your blame/responsibility shtick…..

Shut up and play!

Now, for all the derision we’ve placed on the email, his email is fantastic in three ways – keep these great things separate and strive for them!

  • Proactive communication: Without being asked, he’s initiating communication that sets expectations about his performance. Great!
  • There’s a lot of explanation here, but no blame. At the end of the day he’s taking responsibility for everything. Feel the Power!
  • In the last line to Jack, the author is anticipating the next email response, and answering it now. A great idea, though a little clumsily executed.

Finally, good examples of terrible behavior are so rare and precious! Thanks to this footballer for providing us such a rich topic and remember: “Perfection,” as Antoine St. Exupery wrote, ‘is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove.”

Note:  Thanks to Nate Clement for contributing at least half of this post including the world Cup soccer game analogy.

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  • Courtney

    My english teacher’s have always tried to make sure that we (the students) were thorough when communicating information to our audience. I value the information in this paper because it shows the importance of being simple when communicating. People are not stupid, they can put two and two together.

    I am also a talker, not for the sake of talking, but simply because it allows me to express myself to those around me. At my job, I manly work box at the movie theatre. My job consist of helping guest with tickets, informing them about promotions and movies, as well as assisting the with any issues that occur within the theatre. In order to do my job successfully I need to be quick and decisive in order to help each guest as quickly as possible and get them into their movie. Taking long periods of time to explain can often lead guest to be irritable and have negative experiences. It is important to inform guest, and give them important information that they will value, but it is often important to leave out all the “fluff.”

  • Do’Minique H. Thompson

    I completely agree with the advice given in this article. I come from a large family of 10 children, that is supported by a single income. Money was pretty tight at times so I had to get a job at a young age in order to support myself and help my parents to the best of my ability. My first job interview at DTLR was a success and I got hired on the spot! My manager and I grew a very tight knit, sister- like relationship and she always gave me tips on how to get promoted, and do’s and don’ts for future employment pursuits. The college I attend now is out of state, and 18 hours away from Chicago, where I am from.

    My manager told me to use my charming personality to my advantage, and to connect with the interviewer. She also instructed me not to be too wordy, and to ensure that I answer all questions thoroughly and eloquently with a bit of personal insight. In addition, one must avoid sounding too robotic and scripted. My manager also instructed me not to make excuse because excuses have the tendency to anger people. For example, if you are late, simply display utter repentance and ensure that it will not happen again. This advice from her was perfect, considering that she is a manager; of course she knows what other managers would probably like as well!

    It is very important to find the perfect balance within communication skills with others in order to ensure healthy relationships and a welcoming work environment.

  • Lamisa Chowdhury

    I was extremely insecure at my first job. I was only 17 and working among middle-aged employees. I felt like a fraud. I chronically over-explained everything I did, especially when I needed a day off. Instead of saying, “I need to take the 27th off because of a family obligation,” I would say something like, “I know it’s busy around the store, but I was, umm, wondering if, umm, I could take Thursday off? See, my mom is going to Bangladesh that day because my grandfather is quite sick (he’s had a few strokes), and my dad will be at work. My ten-year old brother doesn’t have school that day because of a teachers’ conference, and needs someone to watch him. We’ve never had a babysitter before so I’m the only one that can fill the job. I’m sure we can figure something out if I have to work, but it would be most hassle-free if I was not scheduled. Sorry for the inconvenience, and thanks for being, umm, flexible.” What a disaster I used to be! I’m much more concise now and I chalk that all up to having confidence in my abilities at work.

  • Chrisitan Alvarado

    In the past I have experienced this a lot in job interviews, thus potentially leading me to not being accepted in jobs. It wasn’t until an interview for a salesman position that the employer talked straight to me and told me the problem that I had of over-explaining.

    To make a point it is not necessary to disguise the words with other arguments by making it longer, but the thorough selection of words to reach a thesis statement faster is what makes things practically easier.

    Thanks to that experience and the wisdom of the sincere employer, I developed a skill that, not only saved me time, but it helped through my though times of job interviews.

  • http://www.facebook.com/deandrathomas22 Deandra Thomas

    Patience in conversation is a wonderful gift but the wisdom to get right to the point is even better. As a call center representative for Education I felt frustrated at times when gathering information from customers to attend school because sometimes they would want to give you there whole life story and a five minute application could take 15-20 minutes.

    I didn’t want to be rude to customers but I had to learn how to interrupt politely and move the questions along so I could get to the completion of application. It takes practice because some customers can get irate and you lose them as a good lead. With experience I became better at being personable, tactful, and quick in receiving and relaying information.

  • Ashlyn Hendrickson

    This information would be valuable to anyone, but for me it hits very close to home. For the most part, I communicate well. When I get excited or nervous, however, I tend to ramble and often get upset when others interrupt. The response I hear most often is, “I thought you were done talking.” Listening more and letting others speak are skills I have been working on for quite some time, and seeing small reminders like this helps keep me moving in the right direction.

    One of the other articles I read mentioned this quote, which I think flawlessly captures my journey.
    “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to remove.” –Antoine de Saint-Exupery

  • AirAKose

    I have an awful habit of this- it’s usually a nervous response.

    One especially bad situation that it landed me in happened during a video game development competition called the Global Game Jam. I spent weeks prior to the event building a base code for us to work off of in the allotted twenty-four hours. When it came time to assign who would do what and explain how the engine worked, I babbled on about all of the details of it: the whats, the hows, and the whys. By the time I had finished explaining it, my teammates were thoroughly confused and we lost a fair chunk of time.

    To compensate, I tried to show them how it worked, but I continued to point out useless facts that they didn’t need. More hours were wasted, and by the time we started, the other teams were half way done. Even after getting some momentum going, my friends were confused over my plethora of explanations. Had we sat down and actually conversed about it, they definitely would have better gripped the code. Had I stopped talking to see what they wanted or needed to know, it would have worked out better instead of explaining my whole life’s story.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Taka67 Stetson Mitchell

    Keeping your comments short, sweet and to the point help get ideas across more easily.

  • Rebekah Jones

    I was 19, and inexperienced, when I started my current job during my first month I chronically over explained my self. I had a habit of attempting to detail every action made and why, and I could not understand why my boss seemed annoyed with me. However, when I caught my boss scolding a couple of silent coworkers for a mistake I made I informed him that it was my fault and that I would not let it happen again I was shocked that such a short explanation was sufficient and earned my bosses admiration. I have used this lesson to improve my communication skills in all aspects of my life.

  • Blwinteler

    Effective and efficient communication is so important in business and in life.

    In my previous job, I experienced this type of non-stop communication many times. My job was to call the company’s elderly members and help them find assistance in lacking areas of their lives. Many of the members I called would simply keep talking, explaining their problems repeatedly without pause. I had several calls that lasted 30-60 minutes when they could have taken less than five. I found this to be frustrating.

    I try to keep my communication simple, to the point, and easy to read. If there are questions about it, I am happy to answer them. Usually, there aren’t any.

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In 1997, Eric Shannon launched the first job board for bilinguals who speak English/Spanish at LatPro.com. Eric still serves as CEO of LatPro Inc., developer of JustJobs.com. He lives in Boulder, CO with his wife and two girls.

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