The Joy of Interrupting
What if we’re working with people who like to tell long stories? They seem to go on and on… As long as we’ve already built rapport and have heart connection, there are plenty of ways to interrupt the storytelling. Telling the details is a strategy that people sometimes take when they want to be understood deeply or when they like their comfort zone and are avoiding taking action. Our job is to listen between the lines and discover what they really need. They might need clarity, information, self-trust, support, or any number of things that you can ask about.
Let me backpedal for a moment. Before we look at when and how we might interrupt, let’s take a look at why a facilitator might encourage storytelling:
- Stretch the imagination to envision a desirable future. “Tell me a story about an ideal day in the future.”
- Someone tells a series of stories that are connected to inner state of overwhelm. “You sound completely overwhelmed. What else is happening that is contributing to the pile up? As you think about all the ways you’re overwhelmed, can you slow down and notice what you are wanting?”
- Use story telling to uncover the life force, innate power, values, and vision. “Can you share an experience of a time when your values were fully honored? How can you honor those values more fully this week?”
- Encourage enjoyment of the inner-critic to uncover the beautiful need. “You sound angry – can you voice that anger fully to see what sweet desire of yours is fueling this fire?”
Those are a few ways to encourage storytelling, but what about when we want to interrupt long, boring stories? When people tell stories, they are usually connected to the past or are projecting into the future, and often they do both at once, by connecting what has happened with fantasies about what is about to happen. Some stories are life affirming, but many cut us off from the flow of life, which is when facilitators intervene. I’m giving a lot of examples here because interrupting seems to be one of the most difficult facilitation skills for people who grow up in cultures where interrupting is considered rude. Out of a desire to be polite, when we don’t interrupt, the session goes nowhere. Each of the examples below could be delivered judgmentally or with deep caring. I encourage yo>u to connect energetically with the heart of each person portrayed and then read the interruption aloud.
When we create an alliance with a group, we can ask for permission to interrupt story telling so that our client expects us to intrude whenever our intuition moves us. When stories become a smokescreen, we can accelerate connection by helping people connect with two things: insight or movement. Continuously empathizing with the same story over and over serves no one. Likewise, being polite, holding back, or letting the story go on beyond your comfort level does not contribute to life. As Marshall Rosenberg suggests, “Interrupt as soon as you’ve heard one more word than you enjoy hearing.” As long as you’re self-connected and connected to the needs of the speaker, open your mouth before you know what you’re going to say and trust that whatever transparent expression comes out will enhance your connection.
What are some other ways to interrupt that empower people? Take a look at the list of interruptions and create a few of your own. There are many ways to interrupt, but connection must be in place first. If we feel any discomfort about interrupting, it’s probably because we have not built the connection. As long as we hold the essence of their agenda when we interrupt, and we tie our interruption to their need, value, agenda or goal, most people appreciate the interruption. If the person responds, “But wait a minute, I want you to know what she said and what I said so you can understand the context,” then take the listening even deeper, tuning into their presenting agenda (what’s on top), the deeper agenda (underlying needs), and the transformational agenda (emerging changes).
Even if they don’t respond immediately to the interruption, it can still have a big impact, although we may not know how until much later. We all get calls like the one I got last week, “Remember you asked me about my vision two years ago?” I didn’t. “Well I had no idea, which bothered me. But I figured it out and now my book is published.” In the same ways that I’ve had profound but delaid reactions to their comments, we’re all impacted by each other, even if we aren’t aware of it in the moment. Now we’ll look at a few other ways of interrupting the process that can have a profound impact – sharing our observations, making statements and giving directives.
About the author:
Martha Lasley is a founder of Coaching for Transformation, an accredited coach training program. She creates results-oriented programs that inspire, motivate, and transform. “I surround myself with people who take risks and look for new ways of doing things; we explore both the solid ground and the edges of transformation."
Coaching is life-changing, world-changing work. The coaching programs at Leadership that Works go beyond theories and models and work with clients on a deeper level. You learn how to coach the whole person: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Whole person Transformation.
Transforming the world.