Stupid Little Habits

Some of us have developed the habit of completing another’s thought during a conversation by finishing the sentence for him/her. Although this is not a telltale sign of stupidity, it is an indicator of impatience and an attempt to rush the speaker along.

I’d like to share this letter with readers:

Dear Keli,

I am thirty-four years old and consider myself intelligent and a good listener. But I have a quirk that I think makes me look like a stuper. I have a tendency to finish other people’s sentences for them. I never noticed it until I sat in the doctor’s office. I finished a couple of Dr. M’s sentences for him, and he nearly had a fit. You see, I’d finished them all wrong. He practically blew up. He told me to stop it, or he would stop treating me.

That was two days ago. I haven’t spoken a word out loud since. I’m scared that I will try to finish other people’s sentences. This problem is not big enough to see a shrink about (at least I hope not). What should I do?

Somewhat Out-of Control in Leawood, Kansas

First of all, for new readers, I’d like to point out that stuper is short for an obviously stupid person. Here is my response:

Dear Somewhat:

I have good news: finishing other’s sentences is a simple habit, easy to break, and not stupidity. I’ve done it myself in the past, thinking it demonstrated understanding and support of the speaker. Not necessarily so. It can be annoying when the sentence is completed wrong.

If you should find yourself about to finish a sentence for another, start counting instead. Not out loud, but silently. Count to six, making sure you allow the speaker to continue. Holding your breath during the count is not necessary.

You may believe that finishing another’s sentence shows interest in what some one is saying. And you may wonder, how else can I show this? Come up with comments or questions to ask once the talk is done. Also, you may knit your brows during the conversation to indicate presence of thought; smile, nod, or frown at appropriate times to demonstrate active listening skills. These simple techniques will keep conversations flowing.

Take time to think.


5 Responses to “Stupid Little Habits”

  1. Maribeth says:

    I think the point of trying to finish other people’s sentences (other than trying to rush them along) may also be a way of trying to show a bond. Like, Hey I know you so well I know exactly the next thing you are going to say.

    I love how you receive letters from readers. That is awesome.

  2. Julianne says:

    Great advice! Thanks. I have the same tendency.

  3. i used to live in a shared house and was unfortunate enough to live with a girl who believed herself to be a left-liberal, feminist. i say ‘believe’ as she knew nothing of the history or current feelings of either group. she simply aligned herself with those groups because she was a woman and her father had a beard.

    anyway, she wouldn’t so much finish people’s sentences as respond in an argument (they were debating, she was arguing) to something they had never said. you know the kind of person i mean: the kind of person who has already completed their thought process before you have even reached the mid point of your…point.

    now, that is the sure sign of a stupid person.

  4. Starlily says:

    Great post! Facial expression and body language contributes to communication. Some habits I’m trying to break now (like raising or narrowing my eyes at stupidity or mis-behavior, says volumes I think, eliminating the need for speech, but apparently encourages wrinkles…sigh…)

  5. Dan says:

    Yes, trying to finish other people’s sentences is a irritating habit and sometimes, smacks of arrogance – a need to prove intellectual superiority. And I especially like the coup de grace of “Take time to think.”

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