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