How to Stop Interrupting People at Work

Have you been in a meeting where you were interrupted? Have you been the one who has interrupted others? I have experienced both where I have been interrupted and when I have been the interrupter. No one likes to be interrupted or talked over. So, let’s discuss some strategies you can use to gain some leadership skills.

First, we need to explore why people interrupt others. People can interrupt for many reasons, including:

  • They may be unaware.
    • I know for me; I was unaware it was a problem. Then a kind person sat me down, and we had a conversation where she told me that in my exuberance, I would often jump in and interrupt. This mentor then recommended some leadership books on becoming a better listener.
  • Feeling anxious
  • They may be excited.
  • A pause does not mean the speaker is done.
    • The pause often means they are gathering their thoughts.
  • Not listening
    • Sometimes when people interrupt, it is because they simply are not listening at all.
  • Worry you will forget.
    • I know one person who fears they will forget what was on their mind, so they talk over the speaker. If this is you, take a notepad with you. Please write down your thoughts so you can refer to your notes when it is your turn to speak.
  • May want to contribute.
    • I have been in meetings where one quiet individual who does not contribute much to the conversation feels a need to belong and then interrupts, often restating what was said, which can be perceived as if they are trying to steal the idea.
  • Ask many questions.
    • Wait to ask your questions. Too often, when you interrupt, your questions are answered when you are patient and wait until the end.

Most people do not intentionally interrupt. When you find you are being interrupted, take a breath and ask why you are being interrupted. Can you ramble? Or do you need to prepare more?

Next. Take action. It can be challenging to speak up and ask for the opportunity to finish your thought. Learn to maneuver by saying something like:

  • … as I was saying
  • I would like to finish my thought
  • I would like to hear more of what ______ was saying.

Finally, watch your nonverbal (body language). What messages are you sending? For example, do not roll your eyes. Do you not make eye contact? Do you cross your arms or fidget like you are not paying attention?

Do not forget to apologize if you catch yourself interrupting another; apologize and allow them the opportunity to finish what they were saying.

The best way to break the interrupting habit is to become more aware that you are doing it. Be an active listener, and carry a notepad to take notes. Everyone wants to contribute to the discussion, and leaders continually seek ways to improve themselves first.

By Cheryl Viola, Executive Director & CEO, MBA