“There’s nothing more annoying than having two people talking when you’re busy interrupting” Mark Twain
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“Oh I’m sorry, did the middle of my sentence interrupt the beginning of yours?”
You’ve been there, haven’t you?
You’re in a meeting. You’re mid-flow outlining an important proposal to your co-workers and a colleague interrupts you not once but a number of times with their opinion.
Not only does this break your train of thought, it seriously irritates you and you’d love to hit them over the head!
However, you don’t do that because you’re not a violent person, but oh wouldn’t it feel good?
In last week’s post about how to be an active listener, one of the tips I shared was to avoid interrupting the other person because interruptions show a lack of respect for the person talking and it demonstrates you’re listening to them.
And yet, we’re often faced with serial interrupters in our professional lives, aren’t we?
How can we deal with them in a way that is polite, professional and doesn’t risk you losing your job (especially if the interrupter is your boss)?
You have to choose your words carefully and express them in a non-threatening way.
That’s hard enough when English is your first language, but what about when it isn’t your first language? What then?
I totally understand. I would be in the same situation if I were in a meeting in Italian. My initial reaction would be to respond in English. I would find it hard to respond in Italian quickly and with the appropriate words.
…… to share with you 7 tips on how you can deal with interrupters in English.
The good news is none of the tips requires a proficient level in English. In fact, A couple of tips don’t require words at all!
#Tip One: Ignore the interruption
Do nothing at all. Sometimes it’s easier to simply take a deep breath and not say anything.
We all communicate differently. Some people are super excited and truly engaged and can’t help jumping in. You can simply smile, let them say what they want to say and continue as though nothing happened.
Maybe the interruption is a valid one, for example, correcting a fact, so you could accept it graciously and move on.
A member of the EWAT community commented during the live lesson on Wednesday that sometimes you need to interrupt a person especially if what they’re saying is taking you down a different path. That’s a fair point.
#Tip Two: Set the expectations immediately
Make it clear right at the beginning what you want to do and how you want the others to respond.
For example, if you’re giving a presentation, you could say you’ll take questions at the end.
Or if you’re putting forward some proposals and need people’s opinions, you could say something like:
“ Some of my proposals may seem ambitious and I welcome your thoughts. However, I think our discussion would be far more productive/helpful if I can outline my proposals first and then invite your comments and suggestions.”
By setting some guidelines, you may just avoid those interruptions.
Of course, it always helps if there’s a good chairperson.
#Tip Three: Just keep going
There’s also this tactic which is to simply ignore the interrupter and continue with your sentence or talk.
You could say “one moment” and finish your sentence and then let them have their say (talk). Or ignore them completely until you’ve finished your talk.
It may seem a bit childish but sometimes, it’s the only way to deal with some people.
#Tip Four: Avoid eye contact
One way of making tip three easier is to avoid eye contact with your interrupter.
Most people who interrupt always look to catch the eye of the person speaking.
The best way to stop them from interrupting is by not giving them eye contact. It would make it much harder for them to interrupt.
Of course, this will only work in a group. Can you imagine trying to avoid eye contact in a 1-1 conversation?!
#Tip Five: Ask Questions
Sometimes, an interruption is valuable and valid and may help you with your talk.
So instead of ignoring the person, you could ask the interrupter to expand on their point or explain why they disagree with you?
You could say something like:
” That’s a good point, Chad. How would you see that working in the short term?”
“ Why do you think the timeline I’m proposing would be unrealistic? Have I missed something?”
Not only will you make the interrupter feel good about themselves, but you may just get them to stay quiet for the rest of your talk.
#Tip Six: Address the interruption directly
Occasionally, you’re going to have to deal with the interruption directly because no amount of ignoring will help.
You will need to be direct but you can still be polite.
So next time a co-worker interrupts you in the middle of your sentence, you could say something like:
“James, I value your opinion/suggestions, but could you let me finish first. We can then have an open conversation later. Thank you.”
It’s direct but not as direct as “James, shut up and let me finish!”
#Tip Seven: Interrupt the interrupter
I like this one because you can play their game.
So when you’re interrupted, what you could do is invite others to comment on the interrupter’s point.
“Sally’s made an excellent point here. What does everyone else think about it?”
That will start a brainstorming session that might just dissuade the interrupter from interrupting again. You never know….
Do you have any tips on how to deal politely with interrupters that have worked?
I’d love you to share them with me and your fellow Ewaters in the comments box.
If you liked this post, share it with your friends and colleagues on social media or email.
A quick reminder before I go…
FREE LIVE LESSON on Tuesday 20 June
Want to dramatically improve your listening skills for business?
Why don’t you join me and fellow English trainer, Cara Leopold (a listening skills expert) for a FREE live lesson on Tuesday June 20?
Cara and I will show you how you can dramatically improve your business listening skills by using blog casts (like this one) or audio blogs.
A recording will be available but only if you sign up first. Share the link with your colleagues if you think they’d be interested.
I look forward to seeing you and sharing our tips with you.
Thanks for reading and listening. See you next week.
Ciao for now