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Stop Interrupting

Learn how to quit interrupting other people.

By
Lisa B. Marshall,
November 28, 2008

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Listener Annie called and left the following message:

I have a really bad habit of interrupting people. This is really a problem as it annoys the people I am talking to and I was wondering if there was any way you could help me.

Interrupting Is Disruptive

Thanks, Annie, for your question. The first step towards correcting any communication problem is to become aware of it. So Annie, in a way, it’s good thing that you already recognize that your behavior is negatively affecting others. Certainly everyone knows what it feels like to be interrupted, but not everyone is aware that they are the ones doing the interrupting. Obviously, interrupting another person is disruptive and can be perceived as inconsiderate or even rude.

But, you should also know that you are not alone. Interruptions happen all the time, everyday. People interrupt people. People even interrupt themselves (with phone calls, or email). Sometimes people interrupt for good reasons (like asking for clarification) but often it’s just a bad habit!

In today’s episode we’ll focus on a few techniques to help you stop interrupting other people. (However, before I share a few strategies, I need to come clean and let you know that I once walked in your shoes. Fortunately, I’ve overcome this habit. Well, at least I think I have.)

Some people interrupt simply because when the other person is talking, they think of something to say. Maybe a rebuttal or an idea that is related to the conversation. They have the urge to blurt it out as quickly as possible. The problem is in that moment, the listening stops, and the focus moves away from the speaker. The interrupter will focus instead on what he or she wants to say. Formulating and rehearsing, while waiting for a crack in the conversation. 

Express Your Thoughts, But In Writing

Instead of breaking into the conversation, write down your ideas as they occur. If you don't have paper, just make a mental note.

Fixing this is just a matter of keeping quiet. Instead of breaking into the conversation, write down the ideas as they occur. Don’t verbally express them the moment they occur; just jot them down for later use. If you don’t have paper, just make a mental note. The idea is to quickly record your thoughts so you can continue to focus on the speaker (and not yourself). Later after you’re sure you’ve heard everything, decide which ideas to present and how to present them to the speaker.

This is generally a good technique to use with people who have significantly more power or authority than you, like senior managers. It’s a good idea to let them finish. Mostly because they’ll assume they’ll be allowed to complete their thoughts. But also keep in mind they might decide to use their power against if you continue to interrupt.

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