Do you know someone who chronically interrupts you?
It’s infuriating, but getting angry isn’t the best response.
Instead, be firm, gracious, open, and recognize when you’re the problem.
Some interruptions should be welcome or at least acceptable. Your listener may be really enthusiastic about what you’re saying, have an important fact or detail to add, or a correction that’s essential. Or the interruption occurs because of a time factor — you’re passing something in a car your listener wants to point out or a decision must be made at that moment.
But then there are people who interrupt for less sympathetic reasons. They just seem impatient to have the floor.
How to deal with interruptions
1. Let it go. Remember that in the moment you may not recognize that an interruption is actually helpful and supportive. Even annoying interruptions don’t have to annoy you. Fighting back will take time and may distract you both from a more important goal. Choose your battles.
2. Set expectations upfront. When you’re giving a presentation, or have a longish story to tell in a social situation, you can start by saying something along the lines of, “Bear with me, this might take longer than you’d like,” or “I definitely want your thoughts on all this, after I lay it out.” This is especially important if you’re dealing with a chronic interrupter one on one or addressing a group that contains a chronic interrupter. When the interruption comes, you can say, “As I said, this will take a minute….”
3. Just keep talking. If you like, you can say to your interrupter, “One moment,” and finish your thought. Or you can just keep talking as if you haven’t heard the interruption. This may seem combative, but if other people are listening, they may appreciate your persistence.
4. Address the issue. Say, “Please let me speak.” The goal isn’t to overcome your interrupter with anger but to be firm and clear. You can be polite and hold your ground. It’s all about your tone and body language. Accompanied by a smile, “I’m glad you’re dying to chime in, but I’m not done yet” doesn’t have to be hostile. It’s just as direct and probably more effective and impressive than saying “Shut up and let me talk.”
5. Recognize the value of an interrupter’s contributions. Some chronic interrupters really have a lot to say. They’re super-smart, their brains are moving fast, and they interrupt to keep things moving at a faster clip. Your impulse may be to clam up. But you can make those interruptions useful. Ask a question or two so you and others can be sure you catch your superstar’s drift. After the answer, reassert yourself. Humoring greedy interrupters very occasionally helps them calm down and let you get back to your point. You can build on your interrupter’s contribution and end up with a richer exchange. You’ll come off as calm, gracious, curious, and focused on the subject rather than yourself.
6. Direct the conversation to someone else. You can respond to an interrupter by asking a third person a question or opening up the floor to a group.
7. Accept the group style. Conversations among equals who are highly engaged can include lots of interruptions. If you’re new to the group, less confident or less knowledgeable, it’s fine to take the floor once or twice and make it clear you don’t want to be interrupted — but since you’re changing the group pattern, you should do so sparingly.
8. Ask yourself whether you’re the problem. Have you been hogging the conversation or rambling? Have you ever gotten frustrated with someone who includes too many details, indulges tangents, forgets his point, or lectures? Could you share any of those tendencies? It may not be obvious to you, but frequent interruptions may be a sign that you’re hard to listen to and can do better.
If you are the problem
One giveaway: Do you frequently interrupt people and absolutely hate to be interrupted? You may be one of those super-smart people who are bored by the pace of many exchanges. Some people dominate conversation because they’re hard of hearing and find it difficult to listen. Others are socially anxious and much more focused on the impression they’re making than on the exchange.
Becoming aware of the issue will help you calm down and practice good social skills. Flying off the handle, on the other hand, will make the next conversation even more problematic.
A version of this story appears on Your Care Everywhere.