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How your “Inner Interrupter” stops you listening

Many of us struggle to listen effectively at least some of the time. The odd thing is that we can listen. It’s just that we often don’t in practice. Something gets in the way and stops us.

Welcome then to the Inner Interrupters — each of us generally carries around one or more of these talk terrorists with us and they can pop their heads up just when we least need them. You may have your own but here are the five most common:

The Inner Competitor

The Inner Competitor is in full flow during pub-talk. When our friend wants to tell us about his new car, we tell him about ours. When we get told a holiday story, we end up telling the story about our own amazing holiday. We are driven to do this because something in us says it’s right to do so. We feel that telling our own stories is the right thing to do, it’s joining in.

The thing is it’s also highly competitive. If you tell your friend about your new car how does it feel if they tell you about theirs, particularly if theirs happens to be better. What would you rather happen, your friend to ask you more about your thing or for them to switch the conversation to theirs? Yes… I thought so, so why do we do it to others?

The Inner Expert

The Inner Expert is a close relation of the Competitor. Both are fuelled by a need to prove themselves, but while the Competitor is charging to get up the mountain, the Expert aims to talk from the peak. This character has come to define their value by their expertise. At worst, like a learned parent, we start to feel we should have an answer to everything. If we struggle to say ‘That’s an interesting question, I don’t know’, we probably have an Inner Expert pushing for recognition. The Expert feels it really should know.

A guilty secret of the expert is that applying expert skills and recommending a solution is a far more attractive option than understanding the real problem. Instead of asking more about the pain we are feeling, the expert wants to apply the fixative bandage right away. In sales training, we call this the ‘solution conspiracy’. Our desire to solve the problem gets in the way of proper deep understanding of the issue and proper acceptance of the need to solve it. To fully support a solution we need to know that we have investigated the need and to feel it badly enough to push hard for an answer to it. The Expert can easily miss all this.

The Inner Creative

Compared to the other interrupters, the Inner Creative has purer motives. This is the part of us that we cannot control, the part that simply has ideas. It is our subconscious and our imagination. We are busy listening but something sparks a thought. Before we know it we are thinking about another idea, the shopping or whether we fed the dog that morning. More poetically we might notice the view or recall a memory. Before we know it we have missed what has been said; we are not entirely present.

Part of the Inner Creative is our intuitive inspiration, our ideas creation machine and part is our, forever-running, internal to-do list. The thing is it chucks out a lot of stuff. Some of it simply needs putting on our to-do list (if we haven’t got one the Inner Creative gets highly stressed and simply brings up more stuff) or binned. If it is simply a thought, either write it down, if you have to or, better, ball it up in your mind and throw it away. If it is that good, it will come back. In all cases it is best to treat it as ours, not theirs — it is bound to be less useful or interesting to the other person than we think it is.

The Inner Judge

The Inner Judge is our Inner Critic with some additional bad behaviour added in for good measure. As well as finding fault with us, this character also likes to find fault with others. It is the Judge’s voice that tells us what should happen and fastens us with the conceit that one course of action is right and another is wrong. It is the Judge who tells us that this person has got it wrong or is an idiot. Sooner or later we learn that there is no right or wrong and that the Judge is simply living in fear.

The Judge also has a mate he consorts with and she is the Story Teller. The pair are co-dependent in a rather unhealthy drug fuelled relationship. The Judge likes to make quick decisions about what is right and the Story Teller makes up elaborate stories as to why that is so. Either way, if we hang out with this pair long enough we won’t have many friends left.

The Inner Orator

This is the part of us that has the crazy idea that what is said is what matters. The Orator can’t stop talking because it believes that what is said is the most important thing. The fact that no one agrees with what is said somehow seems secondary. We have all those senses — our eyes, our ears and our touch to start with — and we allow the one mouth to take over.

What the Orator does is try to pull the other person to our point of view as if they were fixed to the end of a long piece of rope. If we keep pulling, the Orator thinks we’ll reel them in. The reverse is, of course, true. What the Orator needs to do is stop talking and cross the room to look at things, either from the other person’s perspective or at very least from a shared perspective. Once we accept that people listen better once they feel they are being heard we can start to shut the Orator up.

These then are our Inner Interrupters. What they all have in common is the way they were born. What has birthed them is our strength in that area. If we are good at something we have a tendency ultimately to over-use that strength. We might have career successes because we are an expert or because we are creative but if we over-use this skill, the danger is that no one else can get a word in. In a creative team who is going to take the risk of fully living into that creativity if they know they will only be trumped by the boss?

The secret is to start to see what is happening and to manage our strengths so that we don’t become their victims. This is an insight that is often lurking in our blind spot so spotting it is an art in itself. One definite clue is that if this behaviour annoys you in others then it’s likely that you do it yourself. Failing that, look at the strengths you have and see which ones you might be over using.

Once our Inner Interrupters are quieted everything, listening included, all gets a lot easier.

Hilary Gallo

Hilary Gallo is the author of “The Power of Soft” — an unconventional look at how we can get what we want without being a &%@*$!. Hilary was originally a hard ass lawyer who learnt through his own mistakes. After a career of change he finally set up on his own and now works with creative leaders. He is interested in fear, conflict and the things that really stop us. His latest project is Friday Club —

Originally published at on October 15, 2016.