I recently received a question from a listener who wanted to know how to handle a new boss who chronically interrupts. This is a serious problem in a lot of relationships, but it has many causes. In a previous episode, I described the different reasons why people interrupt, and now I’d like to discuss what to say to people who keep interrupting you.
Dealing with Interruptions Gently
Just what do you do when a person constantly interrupts? Is it rude to tell them they are interrupting? Does the power position of the interrupter make any difference? What exactly do you say to maintain the relationship?
I certainly understand why I received this question; it's frustrating to always be the one who has to be quiet and let another person talk.
Interrupting is a bad habit that needs correction, but depending on the reason, or the degree of relationship, it needs to be handled differently. As I talked about previously, some people interrupt because they’re direct, some because they’re creative, and some because they actually want to affirm you and be supportive. Some have just developed a bad habit, or feel they must assert themselves. And then there are the bullies.
Allow me to discuss a few different ways to stop someone who interrupts:
One way to address the behavior, a bit indirectly, is to simply let the person interrupt, then repeat again exactly what you started saying, in a polite, respectful tone. (Read: no sarcasm or anger!)
So, for example, what you DON’T want to say is the following:
You: Sorry, did the middle of my sentence interrupt the beginning of yours? (I heard this once at a meeting!)
You: I want to give you all the results first. I'd appreciate it if you'd give me a chance and not interrupt like you always do.
Instead, you could try something much more polite and gentle:
You: The results of our analysis showed that 3% ...
Her: I talked with Joe Robinson this morning about the analysis ...
You: I'm interested in hearing what Joe had to say, but I'd like to share the results first. The results of our analysis showed ...
This approach helps the interrupter who doesn't realize they are interrupting. However, if you are dealing with a chronic interrupter, and if you've got something really important to share, you could preempt the interruption by requesting she hold her thoughts and reactions until you’re done.
You: I'd like to get your reaction/feedback on the analysis, but I'd like to give you all of the results first. Does that work for you?