Curing the Chronic Case of Constant Interruptions
Imagine this meeting: After carefully listening to everyone’s comments, you open your mouth to say, “Yes, I agree this is a challenging situation. Here’s a way we…” when a colleague jumps in, interrupts your flow of thought, and inserts himself into your comments with “I think we should do….”
Whether you’re an actor on stage or just two old friends so excited to catch up that the conversation seems more like a jumble of words rather than a conversation, we’ve all been guilty at one time or another of “stepping on someone’s line.”
Using our analogy of “a cast of characters,” there’s a few likely culprits who might be guilty of such rudeness. Maybe it’s Talkative Tammy, who can’t seem to control her tongue, or Andy the Arguer who feels the need to jump in, finding fault with anything proposed.
Regardless of who the culprits are, in a business setting, talking over other people can be seen in a variety of ways: from simply being excited to contribute, to mildly lacking in self-awareness, to rude, domineering and or even arrogant. None of which will help create a conducive atmosphere for accomplishing the purpose of a meeting.
Here’s a few ways to handle the problem, depending on your role in the meeting.
Insight for the Interrupted
George Washington University research found that men interrupt women 33% more often than if they are speaking with other men. And this isn’t unique to the business setting: Northwestern’s law school found similar results when analyzing how often the female justices of the Supreme Court were interrupted (32%).
But whether you’re a Supreme Court justice or a junior executive, how do you handle someone stepping on your stage? It truly depends on your situation.
Get off on the right foot: Let people know you know this might take a few minutes – but hear you out.
Don’t relinquish your power: you can use a “stop” gesture, or an index finger as in “just one minute.” Remain calm and poised and finish your thought.
Acknowledge their need: Depending on the situation, you might consider taking a question once you’ve finished your sentence or thought. You can also try acknowledging their eagerness to jump in by saying “I can see you have a point you’d like to make – just let me finish.”
Confront the issue: If the same person continues to interrupt you, consider having a private conversation with them.
Your Mandate as the Meeting Leader
Managing the cast of characters in a meeting can be challenging, but if you know who’s attending the meeting, you might already have a sense of who in particular might be challenging to keep under control.
Establish ground rules up front: suggest that the meeting will run more smoothly or that as a sign or respect or professionalism, that as a group, “let’s agree that one person speak at a time, and allow each other to finish.”
Read the room: if you see that someone is being interrupted or is about to be interrupted – such as a shift in someone’s body language – consider gesturing to that person to “wait a minute” or “hold that thought” to allow the person talking a chance to finish. You can also assert your position in the room by saying “I’d really like to hear the rest of what is being said.”
Take notice of who is interrupting: is it a particular person? Does that person interrupt just one person in particular? Or is it everyone? If it’s just one person, and depending on your role in the organization, you might want to either take the culprit aside to discuss (or their supervisor, if appropriate.)
Possibilities for the Participant
Attendees aren’t just bystanders. Help the person speaking by “standing up for them” with a simple “Don’t stop… please do finish.”
You, too, can subtly assert your own interest and support by saying “I’m interested in hearing what is being said….” This can help the speaker regain or maintain the floor until they have finished.
Whether it’s an over-enthusiastic supporter -- or someone who’s simply being rude – Chronic Interrupters are a part of the meeting landscape that has to be addressed by all involved. Stay engaged in the meeting – and help the group accomplish the purpose of the meeting by allowing everyone the chance to participate.