CommunicationInterrupting

Why people interrupt (and what to do about it)

By June 27, 2019 July 25th, 2019 No Comments

 

PHOTO CREDIT: Stock Unlimited

Are you being interrupted constantly? Or are you doing the interrupting? Either way, you’ve arrived at this place for one of these reasons or the other.

One of the main ways people organically find my website is because they have questions about how to stop interrupting or being interrupted. Does that surprise you? The problem is rampant and crushes relationships both in the workplace and at home.

Does it surprise you that people who interrupt also reach out to me? They know they’re doing it, they know it’s not good for them, and they truly want to stop–just like smokers. If you smoke, gamble, or overeat to excess, you’ll understand that knowing you have an issue is a long way from solving, but it’s a start.

In the series of writings below, I share with you a collection of blogs I’ve shared with my MarionSpeaks community on the topic of interrupting. The majority of the text revolves around helping the person being interrupted, though you’ll note that I also offer sage advice to the interrupters who want to stop. Which one are you?

I interrupt this program for this important message (sound familiar?)

Have you ever been speaking with a colleague, client, boss or employee and it seems no matter what you do, you keep getting interrupted? You begin a sentence, then suddenly, someone jumps in to complete it. Even if the person is right on target with your thoughts, you find it frustrating. Worse yet, is when the interrupter takes your half-finished thought in a completely different direction than you’d intended. And he or she would have known that if he or she had only let you finish without interrupting. Grrrr.

Maddening, isn’t it? Makes you feel like you’re not being heard. If it happens often enough, you may even stop injecting comments into the conversation. “Why bother?”, you tell yourself, “I’m only going to be cut off”. Soon you convince yourself it’s not worth the effort. Further, you conclude that the person interrupting is an insensitive boor who is so intent on getting his or her message out, that they walk all over yours.

The end result of constantly being interrupted? Your relationship suffers. You feel a great sense of disconnect toward this person, perhaps even anger and resentment.

Marion Grobb Finkelstein, www.MarionSpeaks.com

At a moment like this, you have a choice. You can allow negative emotions to usurp you, or you can choose an alternate path (and I hope you choose this one):  you can shift your thinking by asking yourself if their behavior is intentional. 

COMMUNICATION TIP: Ask yourself, do they mean to offend? (They probably don’t).

Connecting with others and communicating well begins with considering the other person’s perspective. At the root of relationships is a magic seed called, “intent”. Sometimes people can be painfully irritating AND simultaneously, blissfully unaware. If there is no deliberate intent on their part, it makes the behavior much more tolerable — not necessarily acceptable, just tolerable. It will buy you a little more patience for them and their behavior if you acknowledge that you are not being deliberately targeted. They are not deliberately setting out to irritate. So why spend your limited energy being offended when none was intended? 

It may be how they process.

Here’s the reality: some people interrupt because it’s how they process and interpret information. In their exuberance to show you they’re on the same wavelength as you, in an effort to express enthusiasm in the subject at hand, they interrupt and ironically sabotage their very efforts to connect with you. It’s not meant to be rude or disrespectful. Actually, quite to the contrary — it’s often intended as a sign that they are actively engaged in what you’re saying. They want to demonstrate to you that they understand so well what you’re saying, that they complete the sentence for you.

It may come from a place of service.

If you are the type of communicator that requires long pauses between thoughts as you process information, you might unknowingly be inviting this interrupting behavior. Sometimes people interrupt thinking that a prolonged pause is an invitation to fill in the blank. Or they believe they are helping provide a service to find the words for what they see as you grappling. They fill in the blanks, the voids, the dead air with thoughts they believe you are trying to express.

It may be time pressures.

Other times, people are just rushed and need to speed up the communication process and get on to the other million tasks that beckon them. Interrupting is their way, albeit ineffective, of keeping the conversation moving at breakneck speed. They are juggling so many balls and are so time-crunched, they are oblivious as to how they are potentially damaging a relationship so they can run to the next urgent matter yelling for their attention.

It may be anger or frustration.

If someone has tried several times to speak up and feels that they are not being heard, they may resort to interrupting. It’s not right or necessarily effective. It is, however, a very human response, and we all do it from time to time. Ask yourself if this person is constantly interrupting you, or is it only when you’re discussing certain volatile, emotional subjects? If he or she is angry or passionate about the subject being discussed, as frustrating as you being interrupted may be, it’s less about you than it is about his or her need to be heard. It’s not necessarily against you; it’s for them.
One of my blog articles that gets the most readership is on the topic of people interrupting. It drives others nuts! So why do people do it so often? And why don’t they just listen? There are lots of reasons, and in my blog, I offer several.

What readers are saying

In response to a chain of blog comments and my responses, here’s what Ken, a blog reader posted:

“We mentally process thoughts faster than we can form the words to express them and so often reach a solution, conclusion, or new inspiration before the other person has completely expressed his/herself. Short-term memory may also play a role; we may feel the need to get our thought into words before we lose it. But I believe the biggest reason people interrupt–and I’m surprised that you and others who write on this subject don’t put it at the top of the list–is because they don’t listen. And that is rude. Listening skills don’t seem to be a priority these days, and they are at the root of all successful relationships.” 

Then there was Russ who was, shall we say, a tad more aggressive in his comments. CAUTION: his approach would burn through relationships like they were old matchsticks. Here’s what he had to say: 

“I guess I’m not very nice… after 2 or 3 interruptions I tell my friend ‘will you shut-up until I’m finished?’ or, ‘Can you shut-up till I’m done or are you not capable of shutting your pie hole?’ If I want to be nice I will let them talk and then say ‘Are you done yet? I’m ready to finish my story if you’re done interrupting.’ I guess that since I’m old now I really don’t care what they think.”

My responses

As much as I understand Russ’s frustration, his response is just as rude as the person interrupting. Regardless of what age you are, rudeness isn’t productive. It might feel good for you but doesn’t come from a place of love and support– it comes from a place of judgment and superiority. That being said, Russ enunciates what many people think, right? Rudeness, whether it’s someone interrupting or someone responding to an interrupter, undermines relationships and positions YOU as the loser.

Now Ken’s situation was a little different. Here’s how I replied to Ken’s comment above …

“Hey Ken, thanks for your comments. Being True Colors and Personality Dimensions certified, I can tell you without a doubt that certain personalities have a propensity to interrupt. It might not be intentional, but the results of them doing so may nevertheless damage relationships. On the upside, these people are typically outgoing, great conversation starters and are comfortable in mix-and-mingle situations. We need them. 

“Alternately, there are other personality types who quite naturally are fantastic listeners. They feel most comfortable absorbing information at their own pace, synthesizing it, and then offering their input when they’re ready. That, right there, is the rub, “when they’re ready”. Sometimes they don’t respond because they need time to process. It can look to others as disinterest, withdrawing or not contributing. On the upside, these people are typically amazing listeners who present well-thought-out responses and enjoy working on their own. We need them too. 

“Remember, it is just as hard for some people to stop interrupting and listen, as it is for others to speak up and assert themselves. Both personality types have their gifts and challenges. The opportunity here is to recognize what yours are and how to modify your behavior to best connect with others”. 

POINT: people seldom interrupt with the specific intent of irritating you, with one exception–a bully.

NOTE: The rules of normal communication don’t apply to bullies. They think and act aggressively, with intent to hurt, with specific “targets” (people) in mind, and with repeated action.

Let me be clear here–there are people you think may be bullies, but they’re not. Even though their behaviour is deplorable, rude, and does nothing to foster relationships, these people interrupt without intention. They don’t mean to behave the way they do and quite often feel regret after. That’s not an excuse, it’s an explanation.

Bullies are different.

Bullies interrupt deliberately and with the purpose of demeaning and belittling specific people or types of people. They don’t behave this way to everyone–it’s not part of their speech pattern with the world. It’s a technique they use to prove their superiority with select individuals we call “targets”.

Bullies mean to cut you off at the knees. If they have an audience, some bullies will love that even more. Others don’t want an audience and bully in private, yet almost always their behaviours betray them and they show their real selves to unsuspecting spectators. They pick on one or several targeted people repeatedly, whereas they are often polite and tolerant and don’t interrupt others.

These are bullies and they are different. Your response to them is also completely different. Speak to them directly and let them know that their behaviour is inappropriate. Draw the line in the sand. Don’t let them push you around. Speak to your boss and/or HR office. Document everything and build a case. In this article, I’m NOT talking about bullies. I’m talking about regular people who are unaware of their irritating interrupting habit. They do it to everyone.

Enough about bullies. Let’s talk about normal people interrupting and being interrupted.

Bullies aside, once you understand that we’re all different, it helps to build bridges between communication styles. If you’re dealing with someone who interrupts, you might not be able to change his or her behavior, but you can sure change yours. If you find you’re constantly being interrupted by all types of people, it might be YOUR communication style that needs tweaking. Here are some suggestions:

IF YOU’RE BEING INTERRUPTED …

  1. Speak faster, get to the point, don’t ramble
  2. Invite comments before you complete your thought (engage the listener)
  3. Ask the interrupter to give you a sec to finish what you were saying (interrupt the interrupter)   
  4. Become AWARE of how often you’re interrupted. Is there a pattern? Is this the only person who interrupts you? Or do you find yourself constantly being interrupted by everyone? If the latter, you are the common denominator, so change how you communicate and get different results.

Give these techniques a try and POST BELOW in the comments to let me know how they worked. Have ideas you’d like to shared about how to handle people interrupting you? Post them too. Let’s get the conversation going. Don’t interrupt this train of thought 😉

IF YOU’RE THE INTERRUPTER …

Continue reading. About half-way down this series of articles, you’ll find a pile of tips for those who interrupt. If you’re the unlucky recipient of being interrupted, you may not have a lot of compassion for these people (and some are oblivious to their actions). However, it’s important to know that many people who interrupt are aware that they do and, like any bad habit, they struggle to break themselves free. Feel free to jump to the section below that helps those interrupters who want to stop.

I was ready to scream in the elevator! (a.k.a., She’s interrupting me AGAIN!)

In the past week, I’ve received two emails on the same subject–people being interrupted. Both were compelling in their explanations of how their colleagues were driving them to distraction, ready to rip their hair out with frustration. One was so at her wit’s end with her colleague interrupting frequently, she confided, “I was ready to scream in the elevator!”. Have you ever been so angry with someone interrupting that you felt the same way? Many people do. That’s why I asked her permission to share our exchange with you. Being interrupted is a common problem that plagues many people in the workplace. As you read the following, ask yourself if you relate?

HER QUESTION:

“One of my colleagues is either too much like me or too different and I have a hard time dealing with her “interruptions”. One example: she likes to come in person to let me know she is going to send me an important email. To me that counts as TWO interruptions and slows me down (apart from the productive answering part of the work) by about 20-30 minutes rather than 10. i.e. every time I am interrupted from my work, I have to switch gears to answer (or assess the question only) and switch back.

Another example: She sits at the front desk of the office (I’m in a different room) and only sees me when I pass by (AM/PM, washroom, lunch) or she decides to come over. (I recognize her foot steps and “stand on alert” every time I hear them).

I was on my way to the elevator on a rush errand. She saw me go by and gently shouted her question as I am entering the elevator hallway, ‘have you checked this/that and done …’?

I have already mentioned to her that I have attention issues, and have trouble refocusing quickly like that. 

When she is on a ‘mission’ (think military) she does not see my poster/remember my recommendations/issues and just ‘shoots at me’–that’s what it feels like. I was ready to scream in the elevator (I told a stranger that much but she had not witnessed anything and could not identify my colleague).

I know some (a lot) of it is my problem because I did not sleep well etc. but I really want to know how I can address the issue when it comes up or prevent it (although I am getting desperate there, it seems as we do not know how to communicate effectively). 

As a solution, we  had decided we were going to meet shortly 5-10 minutes, one or two times a day to do a switch-over/recap (like nurses do at end of shifts). It happened once, maybe.

Do you have any ideas what can help now?”

MY ANSWER:

“It certainly sounds like you’ve tried many approaches to curb this colleague’s interruptions. Subtlety is wasted on some people. This is a chance for you to stand firm and assert yourself. I completely understand you’re wanting to explode to the point that you’re passing comments in an elevator. When you find yourself talking to other people about a communication challenge, ask yourself, ‘Have I spoken yet to the person who can actually do something to change this?’ If the answer is ‘no’, you’re just complaining. Speak directly to the source.

I would suggest that you go for coffee with her — getting out of the office and to a neutral place adds perspective, and gets rid of eavesdropping ears in open-air offices. Tell her that you have a couple ideas that you think will help both of you that you’d like to run past her. Be genuine.

When you meet with her, start with the common ground. You’re both pros, want to contribute to the workplace and do the best work possible. You understand that people work differently and we all have our own communication styles. For you, you need minimal interruptions to properly focus and get work done.

Now, you describe her behaviour (attack the process, not the person) that is stopping you from doing that. Give specific and recent examples of when and how she interrupts. Explain how this interrupting behaviour negatively impacts you AND her. Offer solutions — like your handover meeting, and this time, stick to it. Ask her to write down and stockpile a bunch of items so when she meets with you, she can relay several in one meeting versus interrupting several times. End by thanking her, telling her that you value her input and professionalism, and the fact that you can speak so candidly to each other. Add whatever other attributes you truthfully admire.

Do you and she report to the same boss or different ones? Either way, it might be worth mentioning to your boss that you’ve spoken to her. This will do two things: 1) it will keep your boss apprised of your challenges (he/she might be completely unaware); and, 2) it will position you as the take-charge leader you really are.

Give these suggestions a try and let me know how it goes. Life has interruptions. The trick is knowing how to manage them and move forward”.

Stop interrupting me!

Everyone gets interrupted sometime, and everyone interrupts. When it happens on a regular basis, you just want to shout, “Stop interrupting me!” I recently received an email from a woman at her wit’s end figuring out how to deal with a persistent interrupter.

Here’s what she said:

“I get interrupted often during one-on-one conversations.  The persons who interrupt are usually doing so for the person I am speaking too, not myself.  I am often in mid-sentence when either someone will just walk up, and start talking to the other person and the other person will respond to them without excusing themselves or correcting the person who interrupted our conversation. 

And sometimes the person I am speaking to will be the person who grabs someone else walking by to speak to them while I am speaking to them.  When this happened to me again today,  the person introduced me to the person who interrupted and then continued their conversation with the interrupter.  I walked away thinking I was used to this behavior. 

Later the person I had been speaking with apologized but only now more than eight hours later, do I realize I am angry and offended. 

If someone interrupts a conversation I am in because they want my attention, I excuse myself (especially if it is a boss) or ask them to give me a minute while I finish up with the present conversation or put a pin in it to finish up later.  But when I am interrupted by someone who wants the person I am speaking with, I feel it is not for me handle but the other person. Am I painting a clear picture, and can you offer me any assistance?  I would greatly appreciate it.”

Grace

Sound familiar? I’m sure you can relate, at least in part, with her frustration.

Here’s how I responded:

Dear Grace, I feel your pain. It’s maddening to be interrupted by a third party only to have your colleague carry on a full conversation with you standing there. Admittedly, sometimes there are operational issues that dictate an interruption, though usually, it’s nothing that urgent. It’s a piece of information or a decision someone thinks he or she needs NOW or else they can’t continue with their project or respond to someone, or complete whatever task it was that is their priority. Just because it’s their priority, it doesn’t make it yours.

It’s very insightful that your colleague apologized for being interrupted. By doing so, she recognizes how it may have appeared to you. By allowing herself to be interrupted, she also demonstrates that she felt torn between you and the interrupter, wanting to engage both of you and respect your communication needs. Unfortunately, she may have succeeded in compromising both. She would be well advised to ask the interrupter to hold that thought and she’d speak to him or her later (after your conversation).

But that doesn’t answer your question about what could YOU do in a situation like this?

My suggestion would be to speak to this colleague and explain how it looked and felt to be on the receiving end of this action. You felt like the other issue took priority over yours, like your time wasn’t equally valuable, like it was ok for you to wait while the other person got answers immediately. Suggest to them an alternate way that they could respond that would honor all parties, such as acknowledging the interrupter and telling them that she’ll stop by his/her office as soon as she’s finished with you.

Be kind to this colleague. She was kind to you in apologizing. Most people don’t have that insight nor the desire to apologize, so she’s pretty exceptional. Keep that relationship by recognizing what she did right and her perspective. 

What tips will you use?

Do you relate to Grace’s story? Will you use some of the approaches I suggested to shift your mindset and your actions? Best wishes to Grace and YOU in managing this workplace communication challenge of being interrupted. It’s sooo frustrating and with these suggestions, you can interrupt the pattern to make it work more for you. Let me know how it goes.

More real-life examples

I get many people contacting me asking for ways to stop being interrupted. I figure the best way to demonstrate technique is to share with you some of the questions I receive and the answer I give. Here’s a few more examples torn form the pages of real life.

Question: A friend constantly interrupts.

A friend of mine is constantly interrupting the conversation and it went from annoying to hurtful. For example, when someone is trying to explain something and it takes 5 – 6 minutes, in 2 minutes she’ll start talking to another listener about something completely unrelated and will go on and on. When she realizes no one’s paying attention to her, we can see she is mad inside.

I was just wondering, can it be more than just inappropriate, being rude, etc. Does she or someone like her actually have some bigger behaviour or maybe social problems?

Marion’s response:

When someone interrupts, it can be incredibly frustrating and downright rude. Below are a couple of things to consider.

Has anyone ever spoken to her directly about this? Maybe you could gently do so. In some of these cases, these people don’t understand how their behavior undermines relationships. Listen up and validate why she might be interrupting. For example, it could be that she’s not interested, her mind is on something else, she’s juggling a thousand balls in the air, she doesn’t get a chance to speak to the person beside her often and is grabbing the opportunity to do so, or any number of explanations.

After she’s responded, explain to her how her behavior looks, how it feels to be on the receiving end. Acknowledge that this might not be her intent, and what the more productive behavior could be. Talk to her at a neutral time and place, maybe over coffee. It could sound something like this …

  • Hey (her name), I notice during meetings that when someone’s presenting, you seem to be distracted. For example, you started to talk to me about something completely unrelated while XXX was talking (you are DESCRIBING THE BEHAVIOR).
  • Maybe it’s because you’re not interested in the subject, or your mind is racing ahead to other subjects? (DESCRIBE WHAT HER MOTIVATION MIGHT BE, ALLOWING HER TO SAVE FACE). 
  • It makes me feel like I’m disrespecting the person talking when I’m not actively listening. And if it’s me presenting and I see you or someone else having side conversations, I wonder what they’re talking about. I feel like I’m missing something … or I must be boring you to death (DESCRIBE THE EMOTION, HOW IT MAKES YOU FEEL)
  • I really want to hear this presentation and respect my colleague presenting it, so I’ll be listening to her. Otherwise, I’ll miss info. (DESCRIBE THE NEW BEHAVIOR YOU WANT TO SEE & THE BENEFIT TO HER). 
  • We want to hear what you have to say too and give you 100% attention when the presenter’s not talking. We just can’t listen to both at the same time. Can we try no side conversations, and save all our comments and question until the end? What do you think? (REINFORCE THE NEW BEHAVIOR)

If she has a boss, maybe you can speak to him/her and mention her behavior as affecting operations and relationships (tie the behavior to biz operations and bottom line … that will up the chance that the boss listens).

If she’s extremely extroverted, she’ll be expressing every thought verbally, related to the subject or not. When she does so, the person speaking can tell her, “I want to listen to what you have to say — before I do, please give me two minutes to finish up giving you this info first”.  In other words, tell her when you’re going to allow for input, comment, and question, and then honor that.

All that being said, some people are just rude and don’t care. They’re so interested in being heard, they don’t listen. If that’s her issue, she has no intention of changing. Your choices are simple: accept her behavior and carry on; change how you behave (ignore her when she’s talking out of line or say something to her — change the way you respond); or walk away from her (don’t invite her to the meetings).

Another option is to speak to her boss and get her some training or coaching. Whatever approach you use, a change in how you communicate will result in a change in how the other person does too.

Interrupting is everywhere

Being interrupted is one of the most frustrating experiences in communication. You’re bursting to express yourself, in mid-sentence, and boom! Someone butts in without so much as an “excuse me”, and all of a sudden, the conversation is all about him or her. Maddening, isn’t it?

Just the other week, I was presenting in Ottawa to an audience of about 300 information technology experts. After my session, the conference attendees had a short break, then off to another breakout session.

During this pause, as often happens, guests approached me to ask questions about my subject matter, offer comments or feedback about the presentation, or to purchase some of the special deals I arrange for my in-person attendees. One lady lamented that she “always” got interrupted in meetings, never had a chance to speak her mind, and couldn’t understand why this was happening. 

Here’s what I suggested she do, plus a few other tips thrown in just for you:

  • TAKE IMMEDIATE ACTION. If someone interrupts you, jump right in and respond. Don’t just sit there and suck it up. Let them know that you value their opinion and you’d love to hear it, right after you complete your thought.
  • PREPARE IN ADVANCE. Identify the situations where you quite commonly find yourself interrupted. Maybe it’s a certain family member or colleague who constantly butts in. Or perhaps it’s an activity, such as speaking up at a meeting. Watch for the patterns, and write down your most common circumstances. Then prepare your possible answers in advance. Planned spontaneity. It will look like you’re being wonderfully impromptu and in control — only you will know you’ve anticipated and prepared.
  • USE BODY LANGUAGE. When someone cuts you off, lean in, raise an open and friendly hand, and maintain eye contact. These gestures will indicate that you still command the floor and control the conversation.
  • PRACTICE. Pick a non-threatening venue where you get interrupted — maybe by a friend, your child, or an organization where you volunteer. Wait until you get interrupted and then practice using your assertive body language and inject yourself back into the conversation.
  • GET HELP. Get a mentor or coach to help you gain the skills to present yourself with confidence. Search the internet for tips and research, read books, take courses. Do whatever you need to do to feel comfortable getting your voice heard.
  • ARRIVE EARLY. Build rapport and allegiances before a meeting starts — that happens in the mix ‘n mingle before the meeting begins and continues in the post-meeting chatter. Make sure you’re a part of both. And if you’re not comfortable with the mix’n mingle piece, learn how.

You are teaching others how to treat you

Don’t let people deny your voice being heard by speaking over you and gesturing for you to “zip it”. Yes, a client confided in me that a colleague literally gestured the “zip it” sign to her during a meeting! Remember, you are teaching people how to treat you with how you respond. Don’t acquiesce.

There is so much that could be said about how to prevent and react to being interrupted. So much so, I’m developing a new program all about asserting yourself and getting heard — and that means knowing how to handle those pesky interruptions. Interested? You can find out more here: Have Your Say, Get Your Way

Why won’t they listen?

One of my blog articles that gets the most readership is on the topic of people interrupting. It drives others nuts! So why do people do it so often? And why won’t they just listen? There are lots of reasons, and in my blog, I offer several.

In response to a chain of blog comments and my responses, here’s what Ken, a blog reader posted, 

“We mentally process thoughts faster than we can form the words to express them and so often reach a solution, conclusion, or new inspiration before the other person has completely expressed his/herself. Short-term memory may also play a role; we may feel the need to get our thought into words before we lose it. But I believe the biggest reason people interrupt–and I’m surprised that you and others who write on this subject don’t put it at the top of the list–is because they don’t listen. And that is rude. Listening skills don’t seem to be a priority these days, and they are at the root of all successful relationships.”

Then there was Russ, who was, shall we say, a tad more aggressive in his comments (ouch!). CAUTION: his approach would burn through relationships like they were old matchsticks. Here’s what he had to say: 

“I guess I’m not very nice… after 2 or 3 interruptions I tell my friend “will you shut-up until I’m finished?” 
Or, “Can you shut-up till I’m done or are you not capable of shutting your pie hole. If I want to be nice I will let them talk and then say ‘Are you done yet? I’m ready to finish my story if you’re done interrupting.’ I guess that since I’m old now I really don’t care what they think.”

As much as I understand Russ’s frustration, his response is just as rude as the person interrupting. Regardless of what age you are, rudeness isn’t productive. It might feel good for you but doesn’t come from a place of love and support — it comes from a place of judgment and superiority. That being said, Russ enunciates what many people think, right? Rudeness, whether it’s someone interrupting or someone responding to an interrupter, undermines relationships and positions YOU as the loser.

Now Ken’s situation was a little different. Here’s how I replied to Ken’s comment above …

Hey Ken, thanks for your comments. Being True Colors and Personality Dimensions certified, I can tell you without a doubt that certain personalities have a propensity to interrupt. It might not be intentional, but the results of them doing so may nevertheless damage relationships. On the upside, these people are typically outgoing, great conversation starters and are comfortable in most mix-and-mingle situations. We need them. 

Alternately, there are other personality types who quite naturally are fantastic listeners. They feel most comfortable absorbing information at their own pace, synthesizing it, and then offering their input when they’re ready. That, right there, is the rub, “when they’re ready”. Sometimes they don’t respond because they need time to process. It can look to others as disinterest, withdrawing or not contributing. On the upside, these people are typically amazing listeners who present well-thought-out responses and enjoy working on their own. We need them too. 

Remember, it is just as hard for some people to stop interrupting and listen, as it is for others to speak up and assert themselves.

Both personality types have their gifts and challenges. The opportunity here is to recognize what yours are and how to modify your behavior to best connect with others. 

 

 

When someone interrupts, YOU may be the problem

I received an email from someone who found my website while web surfing for solutions to the question, “How do I stop someone from interrupting me?”

She writes …

“My boyfriend and mother seem to interrupt me when I speak. Usually, I think they are bullying me or trying to embarrass me in front of others. They won’t stop acting this way towards me. Every time I try to speak to my mom. At times she’s not like this but when she is, it’s like she wants to attack me emotionally or physically. Same with my boyfriend, sometimes in private  Or sometimes in public, they like to be center stage. Also, my sister does this as well towards me. I’m not sure what to do since I think I’m going to be happy around them but end up getting hurt instead, yet sometimes they are really fun to be around. Some people are very misleading — you can help them out but they don’t care!!!!! And when they say they care they only “act” as they do…it’s bullshit. I hope people stand up for themselves. I’m still learning about not being bullied like this. 

PS: I still live with my mom and my boyfriend and I live in the basement area. I love them both and my sister when they are not trying to hurt me. Any suggestions please let me know. I usually can’t speak up for myself (unless I can find a way to run away) before the emotional abuse starts”

I reply …

Sabrina, at the risk of sounding abrupt, here’s how I read your situation — one of two things are happening. Either, A) you’re surrounding yourself with bullies, and/or  B) you’re enabling them.

You can’t choose your relatives but you can choose to spend time with them or not. How you respond to them when they push your buttons is also your choice. You have a say in who you select as a boyfriend or significant other. I remember years ago hearing Dr. Phil say something that stuck with me. He advises, “You teach people how to treat you”. If you are constantly being interrupted, YOU are part of the problem — you’re an enabler. The good news is that you can change your response and stop enabling, or you can walk away and remove yourself from the situation, if not physically, then emotionally in how you respond.

You have options

There’s a difference between people interrupting and those who always want centre stage at your expense. The egos of the latter require that they constantly are reassured, get attention and adulation, and are reminded how great they are. Most people don’t need that all the time, though some do — and it’s tiring to be on the receiving end.

So here’s my suggestions in a nutshell …

OPTION A: Change your response

Interrupt the interrupter. Tell them, “Just a sec, I want to finish my sentence”, or segue back to you in whatever wording feels natural for you. Set a boundary and let them know it’s not ok to interrupt. Stop facilitating it.

Use your body language to disconnect from the interrupter. If there’s more than just the interrupter chatting with you, deliberately ask someone else a question. Turn your body away from the interrupter. Raise your index finger to indicate, “wait a sec” when they start chattering. Lean in to indicate that it’s your turn to talk.

Talk to them privately. Tell them what it looks like to you. Acknowledge that you value their input and stories … you just want to get yours heard too. Whether they receive your input openly or not is up to them. All you can do is put it out there.

OPTION B: Get out

After you’ve tried the above, you’ve earned the right to remove yourself. Avoid the situations where the interrupting occurs. Don’t put yourself through it. Walk away.

If you must attend situations where the interrupter is there, avoid conversations with him or her. Have minimal contact. Doing so doesn’t harm the relationship, quite to the contrary — keeping your distance is a strategy to preserve it.

IMPORTANT: if you sense any escalating violence, remove yourself now, physically. I am not a psychologist or counselor, so I may be reading your meta-message incorrectly, but I sense concern on your part. Speak to a professional who can help you if you sense violence is pending. Follow your gut.

IF YOU’RE THE INTERRUPTER …

Interrupters are often unaware of what they’re doing and the damage is having on their relationships and reputation. However, there’s a smaller number of interrupters who actually know they interrupt and desperately want to stop. It’s not easy. Like any bad habit, it’s tough to break.

Tips for interrupters who want to stop

1) Don’t repeat yourself. Say it once and move on.    

2) Practice being concise (it’s really a skill … which means you can learn it). Avoid speaking in circles.   

3) Become AWARE of how often you interrupt. If it’s a pattern, change how you communicate — you are the common denominator.    

4) Apologize when you interrupt, stop yourself, and invite the other person to speak.

Learn more about your personality

Whether your the interrupter or the interrupted, learning more about your natural preferences will give you huge understanding into your communication patterns and those of others. It will build bridges of tolerance and you’ll find yourself more patient because now you understand.

Get a personality assessment to determine if you’re E vs. I (extroverted or introverted). It will provide deep insights into your behaviour and reasons why you’ll want to grab control and change it). There are many valid tests and certified people out there. My caution would be to make sure you go to someone who is certified in whatever assessment tool you choose to use because this person will be able to properly interpret the results and help you build a game plan of how to handle interruptions.  (In case you’re interested, I’m certified in True Colors and Personality Dimensions and provide online assessments for clients. I also provide insightful workshops for teams on this topic.

It all begins with how you think. Come from a place of respect toward the other person — he or she deserves to be heard as much as listen. Take responsibility for that piece and your role in the communication dance, and you’ll be amazed at how you can change the dynamics between you and others. 

Do you interrupt?

One habit that I often get asked about is interrupting. Those who are interrupted as well as those who do interrupt, email me with questions. It’s interesting to note that people from both sides email me with questions, as both parties recognize that interrupting disconnects. It doesn’t do anything to help you.

As it seems to be such a common communication challenge, I wanted to share a recent question I receive from a reader, along with my response. Whether you lean on the side of interrupting or being interrupted, you’ll enjoy this perspective.

An interrupter asks Marion how to make amends:

Dear Marion, I was interested to read your article on interrupting. I generally do not interrupt people, but sometimes I get over enthusiastic and talk over people. What is to say by way of apology after I have talked over someone? (Rachel M., United Kingdom)

Marion’s response:

Rachel, thanks for sharing your communication challenge — you’re not alone. Interrupting often is not meant as an insult; quite to the contrary. It’s a sign that you’re actively engaged and want to contribute. Don’t whip yourself. Commend yourself for being enthusiastic AND for realizing that interrupting may not be serving you or your colleague well. Recognizing this fact is the first step to changing it.

Next time when you realize you’re interrupting, the first thing I want you to do is to congratulate yourself. Yup, I said, “congratulate yourself” … not for interrupting, but for realizing that you just did. Once you’re aware of the behavior and the reasons why it’s not working for you, you have the motivation to change.

To answer your question of what to say when you do interrupt, simply acknowledge and change the behavior. It sounds something like this, “Oh, I’m so sorry for interrupting. I’m just so excited about what you’re telling me. Please tell me more”. And then comes the critical part. Actively listen. That means, nod in attention, maintain eye contact, tilt your head, lean inward — let your body SHOW the other person that you’re listening. Focus on what is being said, not your next question or comment. When the person is finished (say 30 to 60 seconds later or so) and there’s a natural pause in their conversation, inject a quick question or comment. Remember, the focus is on them, not you getting your story out.

After several minutes of actively listening with a few quick questions here and there, if they appear interested in you, now is the time to add in your personal comments or similar stories to show that you understand and have experiences in common.

For some people, remaining silent and saying nothing is just as difficult as it is for others to speak up. It doesn’t mean that one is right or wrong, evil or good. It means that we’re all different, and that right there, is the beauty.

In your next conversation, keep your enthusiasm and energy and express them through active listening. That will honour both you and your colleagues.

Some interrupters really want to stop

Here’s a workplace communication challenge that I received recently and I thought you’d find my response useful too. WARNING: You’ll see yourself on one side or the other. Take a peek below

Question from an interrupter:

Dear Marion, I came across your article on communication and interruption. Sometimes when I am with two-three people I over-talk people without realizing they are not liking it and also sometimes I speak too much even what is not required. I am losing my good friends and contacts. I feel so bad and have no idea how to change my bad habit and be more mature person.
Signed, Charlie (from Australia)

Marion’s response:

Charlie, good for you for recognizing your communication challenge and your role in it. You have a situation that many people experience. In fact, people searching for ways to handle “interrupting” is one of the #1 reasons people find me on the internet. It’s a common problem! 

STEP 1: Acknowledge YOUR role in perpetuating the situation

You’ve already taken the first step in changing a bad habit — you acknowledge the behavior that isn’t serving you well. You show great responsibility and maturity in this awareness and your willingness to seek out solutions. Here are some steps that will help you on your way to smoother communications.

STEP 2: Feel the pain.

Before you change your behavior, I want you to feel the pain. That’s right — I said, “feel the pain”. Wrap your head around all the BAD things your interrupting is bringing you. Here’s some that you’ve mentioned:

  • other people don’t like it (it does nothing to build relationships)
  • you are losing good friends (your support group is shrinking)
  • you are losing contacts (business and otherwise)
  • you feel bad about your losses and yourself
  • you feel responsible and don’t know what to do 

Feel the pain of what you’re losing. Imagine your world without all these benefits. Let the loss wash over you, envelope you, usurp you. Feel it in every fiber of your body. What would this world you’ve described look like, feel like, be like? Get in that moment. Remember the times when you’ve tasted the unfavorable response of others from your behavior. Think about the expressions on their faces when you interrupt, that hint of impatience, frustration, or even anger. Imagine your world without those friends, business colleagues, relationships, and support network. Carry the scenario to the extreme. In the worst-case scenario, what would this reality look like? Feel like? Be like?

If it hurts — fantastic! The more it pains you, the more REAL the consequences of your current behavior become, and the more likely you are to change. Here’s the reality — you control 100% of your behavior. No one else. You create your own reality. The good news about that is that you have the power to change your reality. You can do this. But how? Read on. 

STEP 3: Think of the gain.

Now, focus on the gain, what you’ll get when you change your behavior. What’s your ideal? What types of relationships do you really want? How do you see yourself interacting with others? What do they think about you? How do they treat you and you treat them? What does it feel like, sound like, look like? Put yourself into the moment. Feel the warmth of productive and respectful exchanges with colleagues, friends, and family. Think about how they admire you and your ability to communicate so well. Ponder, for a moment, the amazing feeling of being in control and getting the outcomes you really want and deserve. Feels good? If you want it bad enough, you can stack the deck in your favor to make it a reality.

STEP 4: Change the behavior.

OK, so now you have really good reasons and incentive to change your behavior. Hang on to the pain and gain because they will keep you motivated to change when you waiver. You know that what you’re currently doing isn’t working for you. It’s not serving you or others well, and you’re paying a high price for it.

You want to stop interrupting, but how? Here are some tips:

Acknowledge your intent. Sure, you’re interrupting — but are you doing it deliberately to irritate? The answer is likely, “no”. Make that a “hell, no”. Quite to the contrary. You may well be coming from a place of respect and enthusiasm. The challenge comes in that people express these things differently. To some, it comes out as listening attentively with no response or comment at all (which can be equally off-putting to some). Conversely, others express this by jumping into the conversation with two feet, often talking over others. In an attempt to show someone that they are so on the same wavelength, “interrupters” will sometimes complete other people’s sentences. It’s not meant as disrespectful. Actually, it’s intended as a sign of being actively engaged. It’s is rarely received as such.

The point: you’re not interrupting to distance yourself from others. It’s a communication pattern you innately have — and when not in check, it doesn’t work for you.

  • Focus on their message, not yours. Instead of thinking about what YOU want to say next, put your full attention on the person speaking. Spend all your energy absorbing the information they’re sharing. Allow them to finish their thought, to complete their sentences. Remember — to be interesting, be interested.
  • Let your body communicate interest. Change your body language to communicate that you are actively engaged and in listen or “receive” mode. That means, maintain eye contact, lean slightly forward to the person talking, tilt your head gently to the side, nod acknowledgment (which doesn’t necessarily mean agreement, just that you heard them), and point your feet and shoulders in their direction. People can’t read your mind and know that you’re really interested — they can only read your body. So make sure your body shouts, “I’m listening”.
  • Be a detective. Instead of interrupting, ask questions. Wait until they’ve completed their thought and talk a pause for breath. Then, jump in with a question about what they just said. Ask for clarification. Ask when, how, what, why and who. Doing so demonstrates great listening and that you are genuinely interested in what they have to say.
  • Breathe deeply. If you find the temptation to interrupt incredible, be mindful of that. When you feel that “I want to interrupt” sensation bubbling up inside you, take a slow, deep breath instead. Literally and lightly (please), bite down on the tip of your tongue as a gentle reminder to hold tight. You’ll have a chance to talk … after they’re done.
  • Apologize. If you slip and interrupt mid-sentence, stop yourself and say to them, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt. I really do want to hear what you have to say. Please continue”. You’re human. It’s OK not to be perfect. It’s not a matter of “if” you’ll slip up, it’s “when”. When you do, commend yourself for realizing it — then apologize and resume listening.

A word of caution

It’s true that you control your actions, and that when you change your responses, you change the “dance” and responses of others. When you behave differently, you get different results. This being said, it’s not without a word of caution that you don’t have control of how other people behave. Most people will appreciate your effort and, with time, will forge a new relationship with you.

However, there are always some people who are not willing to change. They are stuck in a negative pattern that they refuse to give up. This is your invitation to “let it go”. You can change yourself, you can do the right and productive thing, and if people choose to accept that gift, it’s up to them. Some will not. Remember that their refusal speaks more about them than it does about you. Applaud yourself for stepping up, and then move away. Let it go.

I jokingly remind my clients facing the same communication challenge of “interrupting others” that you have two ears and one mouth for a reason–we were meant to listen more than we talk. If you want to really connect with others, learn to actively listen better and it will transform your relationships. Start the changes now. Begin with how you think. That’s your homework. Once you’ve done that, use the hands-on steps above to actually alter the behavior, and when you do, I assure you, your friends, family, and colleagues will notice the difference. And so will you.

Confessions of a recovering interrupter

Now, you may think that every person emailing me is the one being interrupted, and you’d be wrong.

I often have interrupters reach out. They recognize that they interrupt and are angry at themselves. Before you jump on the wagon and join the choir against interrupters, as a certified personality expert, let me remind you that it takes an extrovert as much energy to bite his or her tongue as it does an introvert to speak up. The wisdom comes in recognizing and taking responsibility for your speech patterns and changing what doesn’t work.

Just this week, I heard from a lady whose feelings about her interrupting pattern were absolutely heart-wrenching. She had self-loathing because of this habit and desperately wants to change it.

Again, before you introverts say, “Well then, why didn’t she just stop?”, let me ask you–“Then why don’t you introverts speak up more? Why must introverts internalize every thought and share it only when they’ve made a decision instead of involving others in the process? Why do they remain silent when others really need and want their input?” Hmmm, not so easy to “just” do it, is it?

The answer is why people don’t “just change” is likely because they don’t realize you’re doing these things or the impact on others. Or maybe you do, and you just don’t know how to change it. The same is true of interrupters. (Yes, there are exceptions and some people who really do want to interrupt and don’t care — those are bullies. We’re talking about normal people right here).

And now, because of all these reasons, I’m anxious to share with you the insights of this recent email exchange. Let me know what you think in the blog comments below.

An interrupter writes me:

Thank you for your blog about interrupting. I’m the guilty party. Just as it frustrates the other party who is speaking, so do I feel embarrassed and frustrated with myself. I hate this in myself! I will determine to wrestle this to the ground and conquer my interrupting thoughts. It’s even more frustrating at my age which is 69 in 3 months.

My response (PS: whether you’re an interrupter or interrupted, you’ll find it useful too …)

Firstly, let me commend you for your amazing insight and honesty. You are already miles ahead of many other people. You recognize that your speech pattern isn’t working for you and, here’s a slant and different way of thinking — it’s actually GOOD that it hurts. When things hurt, really badly, and we have the wherewithal to acknowledge that hurt, is when we’re ready to do something, anything, to change it.

I invite you to write down everything you lose because you’re interrupting. You’ve already mentioned the loss of feeling good about yourself (you feel “embarrassed and frustrated” with yourself). You lose loving your traits and behavior and say, “I hate this in myself!”. Excellent! The stronger you feel about the bad results of this behavior, the more motivated you are to change it.

Instead of chastising yourself, COMMEND yourself. Yes, commend. Let me explain …

I’d like you to try an experiment. Just one week. Seven days. During this time, I want you to be a detective. Notice the times you interrupt. How often do you butt in before someone is finished? Watch people’s reactions. When you see it, remind yourself that this is the reason why you want to stop. And … here’s the big part … every time you interrupt and notice it, COMMEND YOURSELF for being aware. That’s right. No more self-flagellation. Hating that part of you ends now, today. Why? Because you are remarkable noticing this behavior and taking steps to change it. I honor that part of you and you can too. 

It’s difficult to change life-long patterns of how we communicate. I, myself, am a recovering interrupter. That’s why I take immense pleasure in helping others because in doing so, I’m reminded of strategies and techniques I could use. You aren’t alone, I assure you.

PAY IT FORWARD AND SHARE

PS: please feel free to share with your colleagues, boss, and clients. Everyone needs communication tips at some point.

cheers, 
Marion Grobb Finkelstein 
WORKPLACE COMMUNICATION CONSULTANT

Marion@MarionSpeaks.com

www.MarionSpeaks.com

www.facebook.com/MarionSpeaks 
https://youtu.be/OgXbgXcvVN4

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“Marion Grobb Finkelstein, Workplace Communication Consultant, travels across Canada to help business people and organizations communicate in the workplace to get better, faster, easier results. She can help you too. Marion@MarionSpeaks.com 289-969-7691  www.MarionSpeaks.com OPT-IN to Marion’s Workplace Communication Tips enews at www.marionspeaks.com

 

Marion Grobb Finkelstein, Communication Consultant 
PHOTO CREDIT: Michelle Valberg

Want to boost your leadership communication skills? Marion can help. Contact her to explore options including one-on-one or group coaching, or bring Marion to your organization or conference to present a program of your choice.

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