Interrupting the Interrupter. Yes, There is a Better Way!!

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Ugh!!! There you are… explaining your AWESOME idea, and that’s when it happens. 

A colleague starts talking over you.
One of the managers in the meeting stops you from talking by calling your name, and then goes on to explain why you’re wrong.
A conversation suddenly breaks out at the other end of the table. 

What the heck is going on here, and even more baffling… what the heck are you supposed to do about it?!?!

It’s no fun being interrupted. So what’s a person to do? 

Take back the floor. 

Preparation is key. Find a phrase that will help you stop the interrupter, then practice how it feels to say it. This needs to be a phrase that you are comfortable with and one that fits your communication style. As soon as the offender starts talking… calmly, boldly, and without emotion re-establish yourself as the speaker by saying:

“Excuse me, I wasn’t finished.”

“Please let me finish my idea, I’ll be glad to hear your thoughts next.”

“I’d appreciate the opportunity to finish my idea before we move on to discussing other solutions.”

Side Note: Never add "Sorry" in front of these statements. 

Initiate a crucial conversation.

If you find that the same person interrupts you over, and over, and over… it may be time to have a heart to heart with the offender. In this conversation, be sure to share:

  • Your sincere desire to build a strong working relationship
  • How it makes you feel when you’re interrupted
  • The change you’d like to see going forward

Learn the power of brevity. 

One of the best ways to keep people from interrupting you is to share your brilliance in 30 seconds or less.

We’ve all been guilty of impatiently shaking our foot, tapping our pen, and thinking “Good grief, get to the point!” when someone drones on with what we feel is too much detail. Sometimes, that frustration results in an interruption.

Here's a cool bonus that comes with this approach: Your reputation as a strategic thinking will skyrocket!

Here's how to be brief, crisp, and prepared:

  • Get really clear on the essence of your idea. Come up with one or two simple sentences that convey the most important points. After delivering your suggestion, ask one of these follow-up questions:
    • “Would you like more detail?”
    • “What questions do you have about my proposal?”
    • "Is there anything you'd like to know about my research, or how I can to this conclusion?"
  • Don’t share everything in your head. Keep your analysis, interview data, and research handy. This will help to calm your nerves when there are questions, and help you fight the urge to over explain. Do not (for any reason) go into deep detail or tell a winding story about how you came to believe in a solution or suggestion. 
  • Practice. Start small. Find opportunities to share complex ideas and suggestions in 30 seconds or less. A little practice will have you ready to participate succinctly in meetings, one-on-one's with your boss, and during interviews.

While we’re on the topic of interrupting: 

Make sure that you aren’t picking up this bad habit and becoming the Interrupter.

There are a few circumstances where “fighting fire with fire” is a sound strategy. This isn’t one of them.

Just like your mom told you, it’s rude to interrupt people. 

Don’t do it.

Ever.

OK, we all slip on occasion. Do make a serious effort to focus on listening when you feel yourself about to interrupt.

Not only is it rude, it doesn't work. Here's why:

  • Likability is a critical component of professional success, and people don’t like people who don’t care about their ideas.
  • The person you're interrupting won’t truly listen to you (or anything you’ve got to say).
  • Other people in the room will notice. Even if your colleagues have picked up this bad habit, you'll leave them with an impression that you are not collaborative. 
  • The person being interrupted may begin to speak louder and louder to ensure they are heard. Unless you’re willing to get into a shouting match in an attempt to be the victorious winner in the battle of who will quiet down first (not recommended), find a different strategy to get your ideas heard.

Tactfully handling interruptions is the mark of great leadership.

Make it clear that you know your value, have meaningful contributions to the conversation, and insist on working in an environment where respect is given and received.