Business Meetings: 5 Valuable Tips on How to Politely Deal with Interrupters in English
Updated May 2020
“Oh I’m sorry, did the middle of my sentence interrupt the beginning of yours?“
There’s nothing more infuriating than being constantly interrupted in a business meeting by that colleague who loves the sound of their voice or your CEO who can’t help offering their opinion whilst you’re presenting your new initiative to your international colleagues.
As I see it, there are different types of interrupters.
➜ There’s the power dynamics where certain senior colleagues, with a hidden agenda, use interruptions to disrupt your presentation, discredit your message or undermine you.
➜ There’s the colleague who has unresolved issues and uses your presentation as a platform to voice their frustration and go off-topic.
➜ There’s the colleague who, whilst enthusiastic by your idea, can’t help interrupting to share their excitement.
➜ There’s the colleague who simply finds it impossible to listen to the end without offering their opinion or asking you a question.
And now with most of us working from home because of COVID 19 and having virtual meetings, we have the extra interrupter.
It’s not just about a bad connection. I don’t know what it is about virtual meetings, but no one can resist talking over each other and interrupting.
Have you noticed how when they interrupt there’s a split-second pause as their voice cuts out before they speak? Drives me crazy.
Not only is it infuriating, but it’s also a huge time-waster.
Whilst these interruptions are irritating, you have ways of dealing with them.
However, they take on a WHOLE new meaning if you’re leading or presenting in a meeting in English.
Because this is not any meeting. This is the meeting where you want:
➜ To make a good impression
➜ To show confidence.
➜ To demonstrate your expertise.
➜ To clearly share your message.
➜ To command your audience’s respect.
➜ To be taken seriously.
What you don’t need is someone to derail your train of thought whilst you’re in mid-flow. Because you fear you won’t have the vocabulary to deal with those interruptions.
You’re afraid you’ll lose control of the meeting and won’t have the necessary English expressions to bring the meeting back to order.
Your natural instinct is to think that if you could just learn the ‘right’ English expressions and polish up your grammar, you might just stand a good chance of managing the interruptions politely, firmly and confidently and taking back control.
Let’s look at this another way.
If you reflect on how you manage interrupters in your non-English meetings, you’ll notice that you don’t use ‘special’ language (linguistic skills).
You use your people skills. You use your ability to read people’s non-verbal language.
In other words, you use your communication skills.
In this post, I want to highlight 5 valuable communication tips you probably already use and invite you to reflect on how you could adapt them to your meeting in English with the English you have.
Tip #1: Ignore the interruption
This, of course, depends on the relevance of the interruption.
Sometimes, the person is correcting you on a point you’ve just made for which you’re grateful. It shows they’re attentive. In that case, you’d acknowledge the fact and thank them for it.
However, if the interruption is a distraction, the best policy would be to be firm and draw attention to the interruption by saying “please let me finish” or acknowledging their intent and saying “I know you have ideas you’d like to share here, but I’d like to first finish my thought.”
Tip #2: Share the proposed agenda ahead of time
One effective way of reducing interruptions is to send the agenda to all participants ahead of time.
This is especially useful if you know what you’ll be presenting could be controversial.
Asking your team for their input, setting a deadline to submit their opinion, questions and objections will allow you to prepare your response and address their issues at the meeting.
Acknowledging these issues before you start will demonstrate that you’ve given their thoughts serious consideration.
One reason people interrupt is their fear of being ignored. Addressing that fear puts you in control.
Tip #3: Listen, validate and redirect
What makes a good presenter is their willingness to first listen.
Then to validate the person’s comments by paraphrasing what they’ve said to prove you were listening. “Your point is that….You make an excellent point here.”
As a presenter or the chair of a meeting, the participants are looking to you to guide the meeting productively. You could redirect the meeting by restating the purpose of the meeting/presentation and saying something like “We have great minds in this meeting. We’ve /I’ve been asked to come up with some cost-cutting ideas. I am confident together we can do this.”
Tip #4: Set expectations
A recent coaching client had a crucial proposal he wanted to make to his most important client. He had asked for the meeting.
He had 3 points he wanted to make to back his proposal and wanted his client to listen to them all before sharing their thoughts and/or objections.
He started by giving context to the meeting and then outlined what he planned to do “I have 3 suggestions on how we can increase profit share. I’d like to share them before I take your questions.”
By mentioning a solution to a problem, he had his audience’s undivided attention.
Tip #5: Probe further
On occasion, people join a meeting with issues that are bothering them and use the meeting to vent their frustrations.
The issue they raise could be something you weren’t aware of, but judging from how they’re communicating, you sense that you shouldn’t ignore them.
You ask them to elaborate and you ask questions. You acknowledge them and their contribution. You also learn something new.
At some point, we’ve been that person who interrupts. If the person chairing the meeting is your CEO, you know how terrifying interrupting them to ask your question is. So the fact, they’re willing to listen to your concerns makes you feel included. Taken seriously.
So, put yourself in your CEO’s shoes and think what you would do.
You probably have many more tips you’ve used to manage interrupters in your first language that have been developed over years of observing how your colleagues and clients communicate and what lies behind their need to interrupt.
Your challenge now is not to assume that you cannot apply your years of successfully managing your meetings to your meetings in English.
The challenge now is not to assume that your less than perfect grasp of English prevents you from commanding respect and taking control of that meeting.
Your challenge now is to embrace the English you have and lead with confidence.