Everyone knows an interrupter. If you don’t know one; maybe it’s you! It can happen in meetings, at home or even out to dinner with friends. Interrupters have a frustrating habit of not letting others finish by jumping in with their own thoughts and perspectives.

Whilst the odd interruption can be forgiven, a serial interrupter does damage to their own personal brand, generates group disharmony and breaks down relationships. Interrupters can be seen as dominators and self-absorbed as they like the sound of their own voice.

To be fair, not every interrupter has the self-awareness that they are doing this. Their intent could be to be agile and dynamic by adding different perspectives or additional pieces of information. They may even view meetings as an open space to jump in and steer the conversation where it needs to be. Interruptions could also be driven by the frustration of listening to a non-succinct communication style or the desire to share the ‘right answer’.

Irrespective of the intent, interrupters can make you feel like you are not worthy of being listened to and send a clear message that they want to control the conversation. With some key strategies, it is possible to interrupt the interrupter with grace and professionalism.

5 Strategies to effectively manage interruptions

1. Address the behaviour before it becomes a bigger problem

If meetings are full of interruptions then no one is listening. Instead of focusing on the information, the behaviour takes centre stage. It can be a helpful strategy to predict that interruptions may occur and address prior to the meeting. This can be done either privately to the main offender or to the group. For example:

  • (Individual) – “Sam I want to touch base before today’s project meeting. Firstly, I want to acknowledge that you have a detailed understanding of the data and I do really value your knowledge and experience. I only have a brief window to share my report today, and I was hoping you could assist me by allowing me to finish the information that I need to share before adding your key input. Is that something that you could help me with?”
  • (Team) – “Thanks everyone for coming today. I have some critical information that I would love to share with you regarding the outcome of the project. I acknowledge that there are many people here today that have some valuable input to share. To help us to keep the meeting on track and to ensure that we finish on time, I am going to kindly ask that you save your questions and input until after my presentation. Is that something that everyone is comfortable with?”

2. Be ready for the interruption

Even despite a great frame up, a serial interrupter can’t help themselves. Whilst a positive mindset will always help, it is smart to enter a key meeting expecting to be interrupted. Practising a phrase that allows the interrupter to know that they have crossed the line will increase the chances of shutting it down early. Be ready to address an interrupter in a calm, confident and professional manner using phrases such as:

  • “I understand that you feel that you have something valuable to add Sam and as soon as I have finished, you are very welcome to provide your perspective”
  • “Sam, I would really appreciate the opportunity to finish sharing my input on this agenda item before we move on to other items.”
  • “I am going to finish my point before inviting others to provide input. This is a key topic and it is important that I have the opportunity to provide all of the relevant data before we discuss.”

3. Have the confidence to address a repeat offender (in private)

Despite the best attempts and strategies, some serial interrupters don’t notice the subtle hints. At this time, it is important to pick an appropriate time and place to help them to understand the impact of their interruptions. It is important to discuss:

  • How you value a strong and respectful working relationship
  • The behaviour that you have observed (be prepared to be specific)
  • The impact to you when the interruptions occurs (provide a clear example)
  • What change you are hoping to see (e.g. waiting until you finish presenting before they input)
  • Reflect on why you are being regularly interrupted

4. The mutual agreement that you would like to achieve

There are no excuses for being a serial interrupter, however if this is regularly happening to you, it is time to do some soul searching. Reflect on your own communication style to determine if it is a contributor to the interruptions:

  • Do you have a succinct communication style or talk for longer than is needed?
  • Have you come prepared to the meeting with clear and correct information to share?
  • Do you have reputation for being a ‘talker’ or a ‘listener’?
  • Would others in the meeting feel that you provide them the space to talk when it is their turn?
  • Is the information that you are sharing interesting, on point or off topic?
  • Are you getting too deep in the detail?

Consider seeking feedback from peers and leaders on your communication style to determine if it is a contributor to the interruptions.

5. Succinct communication may be your secret weapon

It is hard to be interrupted if you can communicate your message with brevity. It is human nature to want to ‘take the floor’ in a meeting, particularly when we feel that we have some unique perspectives or input that will benefit the team. A powerful technique to minimise interruptions is to become known for being a succinct communicator that shares the critical information and then opens the floor for input. Consider sharing the key points and then following up with:

  • “Is there an element that you would like more detail on?”
  • “What questions do you have about the data that I have shared?”
  • “Would you like me to share the additional findings of the report?”

This approach provides the ‘must knows’ upfront and allows the listener to decide what extra information that they may need. Repeating this style will train team members that they will not have to wait long before being able to provide input.

Be patient

There is no question that dealing with interrupters is frustrating, but it is important to acknowledge that changing engrained behaviours takes time. Whilst we perceive people that interrupt to be rude, not everyone has ill intent. Everyone benefits when all team members feel heard, so it is worth showing persistence and patience to achieve workplace discussions where everyone is given the space to shine.

Further information

For assistance with your workplace matters, Members of Ai Group can contact us or call our Workplace Advice Line on 1300 55 66 77 for further information.

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Georgina Pacor
Georgina is Senior Content Writer and HR Specialist – Publications at Ai Group. She is an accomplished Human Resource professional with over 20 years of generalist and leadership experience in a broad range of industries including financial services, tourism, travel, government and agriculture. She has successfully advised and partnered with senior leaders to implement people and performance initiatives that align to business strategy. Georgina is committed to utilising her experience to create resources that educate and engage and is passionate about supporting members to optimise an inclusive workforce culture that drives performance.