What to Do When You Are Interrupted

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We all have that one person in our life (usually a work colleague) who constantly interrupts during conversations. They don’t mean to be rude—they just get so caught up in what they have to say that they stop listening to what you have to say, and start talking.

When we’re on the receiving end, it makes us feel as if there’s no point in even finishing our sentence. We feel disrespected but are often too intimidated to call them out and say, “I wasn’t finished!”

We know that being a good listener is key not only to being effective but also successful. However, often  the person who just jumps in and interrupts the conversation gets taken more seriously because they are seen as more assertive and likely more authoritative.

We need to learn to not be passive in these situations. It doesn’t mean you should be aggressive and yell at the person to stop talking, or talk over them. But we need to be able to take control of the conversation again.

Here are some tips to ensure you don’t come across as a doormat who is willing to be walked all over, nor a bee with an itch because you want to finish making your point:

–    Use your hand. When your interrupter jumps in before you are finished, put your hand up as a stop signal, or just point your index finger up in the air. Maintain full eye contact and say, “I wasn’t finished.” The body language (hand or finger) along with full eye contact will show them that you are asserting your right to continue your thought. If you simply say you aren’t finished, they may or may not stop talking. By using your hand, you indicate that you were interrupted and need to finish your train of thought first. Even if they continue speaking, keep your stop sign up and be ready to complete your thought when they are finished.

–  Avoid saying phrases such as “I’m sorry, can I interrupt?” or “Can I just say something?” Both of those phrases are passive, and make it look like you are asking permission to speak. Don’t ask permission (passive), but instead assert that you have something to say such as, “I have something to add.” Or, “Let me add my two cents.” There is a difference between asking permission and maintaining control.

– I tend to believe that most interrupters are not deliberately trying to sabotage you. They just get caught up in the conversation and don’t realize what they are doing. Sometimes when we have conversations with interrupters, we need to slow the conversation down. Saying things like, “Let’s step back a minute,” or “Let’s review what we’ve discussed,” allows you to gather your thoughts, add something if necessary, and feel more in control rather than like you’re being steamrolled.

– If there are more than two of you in the conversation, it is often helpful to allow others to speak as well. Perhaps say something along the lines of, “Michelle, what are your thoughts on this?” This allows everyone to join in the conversation and sometimes points out to the interrupter that they’ve not included everyone or (heaven forbid) they’ve been dominating the discussion.

– Say the interrupter’s name. If you’ve tried all the above tips and they still keep rambling on, you can use their name, repeatedly, in the conversation. When you do that you will derail the thought process of your interrupter. When we were children and we wanted to get our mother’s attention, we would just repeat “Mom. Mom. Mom.” And mid-sentence, she would have to stop and ask, “What?!” because while we were saying her name, she couldn’t concentrate. Now, this isn’t to say you need to be a three-year-old with your interrupter. However, if it is really important that you interrupt them at this precise moment, just use their name.

“Rhonda. (pause) Rhonda. (pause) Rhonda,” will have me saying “What?” and you can say nicely, “I wasn’t finished. Please let me finish before we decide if it is a good idea or not.”

–  You don’t need to fight fire with fire. Interrupting back does not make you right. You want to maintain control of your end of the discussion and not dominate it. You have some good ideas to share and they simply need to be heard.

– Pick your battles. Ask yourself if it is necessary for you to interrupt or continue your thoughts. Don’t be as aggressive as your interrupter just because you’re feeling insulted. Make sure your ideas are worthy, and your actions are appropriate to the situation.

Now, as was I saying…

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5 thoughts on “What to Do When You Are Interrupted”

  1. I’m afraid that I might be “that” person. What would you suggest as “self induced stops” for someone like me who gets excited about a conversation and wants to participate…albeit a bit early?

  2. This happens often to me. I will be in a conversation with my boss in her office and someone makes eye contact with her and my conversation is forgotten.
    “SQUIRREL”!

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