Why Do People Interrupt?

Do you have someone in your office who constantly interrupts? It’s important to know why the person does this to effectively deal with it.

Lisa B. Marshall
5-minute read
Episode #314

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Usually this style (high D's) of communicator is described as direct, decisive, and dominant, and is often oblivious to the damage created in relationships with this communication style.  

Regional Differences: But high D's aren't' the only ones that speak quickly. You may simply speak more rapidly because of where you were born or live and therefore have different inherent assumptions about how long a pause should be between thoughts. When there is a difference in this deeply pre-conscious perception, the result is confusion about when it's the other person's turn to talk. Unfortunately, this in turn creates hurtful or perhaps even unfair perceptions of conversation partners. One person may be thinking, "you're always interrupting me" while the other person may be thinking, "you never have anything to say." Each person attributes character and intent when it's simply a mismatch in conversational timing. This mismatch can show up in regional differences like between a New Yorker speaking with someone from the South or in broader cultural differences. And, by the way, these speed differences also usually carry negative stereotypes—slow speakers are usually perceived as stupid or dull, while fast speakers are considered too aggressive. Finally (and this is really important to keep in mind, since we live in a global community) in one situation you may be the slower speaker and in other situation you may be the faster speaker. Keep in mind, the speed at which you speak (and therefore pause in between thoughts) is always relative to your conversation partner.  

Anger: Of course, some people interrupt when they’re angry or frustrated. Many of us resort to interruption when we feel like we aren't being heard, But, in this case, it's usually not consistent behavior. Interrupting out of anger is just a temporary way to attempt to control the conversation or cut off the connection to your conversation partner.  

Bullying: And some people interrupt simply because they’re bullies. Bullies thrive on demonstrating aggression and power. Interruptions are just one of the "tools" of the bully. They use interruptions purposefully in attempt to demonstrate control and to create a power imbalance.  

I wanted to first explain why people interrupt, because sometimes just this understanding can help people smooth over perceived communication difficulties of interruption. My hope is that by understanding that interruptions, in some cases, may be intentional and even expected in cert rain contexts, while other times it may be very unintentional—simple communication style differences—will help us all to be respectful of natural conversational diversity.  

And also to understand that because these communication differences may be "pre-conscious" (and therefore be difficult for us to separate the behavior from the person) it can take a good deal of tact and diplomacy to effectively address this issue when it's a problem either at home or at work—especially if the issue has been festering and contributing to communication breakdowns. I will give you practical ways to deal with this issue in a separate podcast.  

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

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.