When Gentle Doesn’t Work
Another approach is to get an assist from a trusted peer. You both agree that, in group conversations, if either of you gets interrupted by the boss, the other person will interrupt the boss and say, "I'm sorry Joe (boss's name). Sue (colleague's name), were you finished? It sounded like you had more to say."
An even stronger approach to stop interruptions is to use the universal "please stop speaking" words and symbol. I call it the "all right then." Here's how it works: you respond to the interruption with "All right ..." or "Thanks," and then start your sentence over again. Here's how it would sound:
You: The results of our analysis showed that 3% ...
Her: I talked with Joe Robinson this morning about the analysis...
You: All right, thanks. The results of our analysis showed...
An even bolder approach is to add in a hand gesture at the same time.
An even bolder approach is to add in a hand gesture at the same time. The idea is to every so slightly raise your fingers with your palm facing slightly above parallel to the ground. Keep in mind that the higher you raise your palm (and the closer it is to the other person's face), the more aggressive the gesture becomes. You can imagine the worst case of this gesture looking like the "stop" or ever worse, the "talk to the hand," gesture with averted eyes.
Again, the technique is to say the words, and then ever so slightly raise your hand, and then carry on with what you were saying. Another option I've heard experts suggest is to very lightly touch the interrupter on the forearm and then say (in the absolute most polite tone possible) "Please" or "May I finish?" These stronger approaches definitely will stop the interruption, but usually I prefer to reserve these approaches for when I am in the power position—for example, when my children rudely interrupt me or another adult. I wouldn't suggest using them in the office, particularly with a new boss.
If the interrupter is a boss and the previous suggestions aren't improving the situation, the best approach may be to have a trusted advisor have a direct conversation about this communication behavior with your boss. Talk with a mutually trusted third party, perhaps a peer of hers, or a peer of yours who has already earned her trust and respect. Whoever speaks to her needs to know the fine art of handling difficult conversations. In my book Smart Talk, I dedicate an entire chapter to this topic, outlining and explaining in detail a nine-step process. In brief, this type of conversation requires that you state your observations simply, specifically, and clearly, and then work with the person to mutually create alternative behaviors that meet your shared goals. That is, you would give concrete examples of times she has interrupted, explain how that negatively impacted the people involved, and discuss possible alternative ways for her to provide her comments. If there are examples from customer interactions, these can be particularly powerful, since they have the most direct negative impact on the business and shift the focus away from the employee who raised the issue.
Ultimately, only you can decide on the best approach to handle this situation. Sometimes just understanding why someone interrupts is enough to give a bit more room and leeway for the interruptions. However, in the end, a direct conversation that is aimed at helping the person to be a better communicator would be the likely result and the best outcome for all involved, though it does take the most effort, preparation, and skilled delivery.
This is Lisa B. Marshall helping you to lead and influence. If you'd like to learn more about compelling communication, I invite you to read my bestselling books, Smart Talk and Ace Your Interview and listen to my other podcast, Smart Talk. As always, your success is my business.