How to Stop Interrupting People & Become an Active Listener

Why We Interrupt

Apart from instinctively labeling our own thoughts as more important than the thoughts of others, interrupting others is also a manifestation of low patience and self-control. 

When entrenched in deep thought while thinking of counter-points during conversations, we often get caught on the hook of a good idea and are compelled to voice it as soon as we determine it to be great. This behavior exhibits a lack of being strict with the level of ideas you publish to the world. 

Interruptions are birthed from a lack of forgiveness and an embellished value placed on the importance of the conversation taking place. Interruptions are fueled by an inability to let go of the little things mixed with a desire to prove yourself in what may be a competitive intellectual realm. 

Even if what you are about to say is proven to be correct in your mind, the way you present it may hinder its acceptance. Presenting your good ideas via interruptive methods is a good way to encourage them to be wrongly interpreted simply due to your method of delivery. 

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Ignore signals

When they send signals that they want to interrupt, simply ignore them. Carry on regardless, perhaps even doing such as increasing your speed or volume to signal back that you are not ready to be interrupted. 

Why do you interrupt?

In order to break a bad habit, it’s important to understand the motivations behind your actions. Some of the most common reasons for interrupting include:

  • Lack of self awareness: Not realizing you interrupt others.
  • Fear of forgetting what you want to say (stemming from impatience; nervousness; or planning what to say next, instead of actively listening).
  • Desire to prove expertise to peers or superiors on the topic being discussed.
  • Need for belonging: you want to be a part of the conversation, but there are no breaks in the conversation. Each time you try to chime in; someone beats you to the punch; or one person monopolizes the conversation.
  • Cooperative interruption: an attempt to relate to the person speaking; by making positive affirmations (e.g. “I completely understand!”) or sharing your own story.
  • Competitive interruption: an attempt to change the topic to further your own agenda; or to gain the audience’s attention.
  • Everyone else interrupts: Interrupting is common in your workgroup, culture or family.
  • You’re excited or passionate about the topic at hand; which can make it difficult to wait your turn.

Wait 10 Seconds

Just 10 seconds. A serial interrupter has the tendency to seek out any gap in the conversation and take it as their cue to leap in and steamroll ahead. An intake of breath can open the door for an interrupter to hijack the conversation. Racine suggests that, when your partner is done talking, pause for 10. “That way, you can really be sure that the other person is finished with their statement, versus just taking a breath or pausing,” she says. “This way you’re not just interrupting them mid-sentence or mid- train of thought.”

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Signal power

Do send signals of power, indicating to other first that you have the right to talk for longer and also that you will fight back powerfully if they do interrupt.

Use powerful body language

Use power body language in general, for example expanding our body space with large gestures and hands-on-hips, touching others and . You can also use the power interrupt beforehand as a signal.

Use the power stare

The power stare may be used to prevent interrupt. This involves looking intently at people for longer than the normal glance. Rather than look up or away as you speak, look directly into the eyes of people, scanning around each person whilst pausing at each one.

The potential reaction to this may be deflected by cloaking it in enthusiasm for the subject. Its intensiveness, however, clearly signals that you are not willing to give up control of the conversation as yet.

Use the interrupt dare

Talk slowly and deliberately. Pause. Speak at length. Yet only let others speak when you ask them a question or otherwise permit them to talk.

The interrupt dare, which may be combined with the power stare, effectively sending signals that an interrupt may be made, yet simultaneously indicating that an interrupt will be met with a powerful response.

Win the power struggle

If you get into a power struggle, for example where the other person is using a power interrupt or resists your power interrupts, then you will need to exercise your power, for example by using one of the other techniques on this page.

Interrupting People Working: Bringing More Value Than Annoyance

One of the primary reasons why people telling us that we’ve missed a spot while vacuuming the carpet is aggravating is because such an interruption often brings more annoyance than value with it. 

The various factors in you missing a spot may be legitimate and strategic on your part. You may have even known about the missed spot and planned to tackle it in the coming moments.

The complexities present in people’s work and dialogue set up your interruptions to bring annoyance opposed to value right off the bat.  

The assumption that someone actually doing the work hasn’t noticed the thing they missed is not a logical one to make. Inherently, their vantage point is superior to yours; as they’d be the ones with the first person perspective. Even if they did miss the spot in the meantime, your act of interrupting their work suggests that you don’t trust their own audit process to notice the things they missed prior to calling it a job that’s finished. 

In essence, interrupting early and telling them they’ve missed a spot communicates that you either don’t trust their perspective or that you don’t have faith in their own act of checking their work. 

It’s thereby a lose lose situation from your position. The individuals you attempt to illuminate a missed spot to are unlikely to take the message in good faith. You’d ensure yourself to be more of a nuisance than a courier of important information. 

To Stop Interrupting, Take The Silence Challenge

The first thing I did was not talk at all at our next meeting. Not in a passive-aggressive way, I wasn’t refusing to answer questions or add my thoughts if someone inquired. I did, however, keep my mouth shut for a whole session, so I could fully monitor my inner life. When did I feel the urge to speak up out of turn the most? Why? What was happening inside that made me feel the need to jump in before someone was finished?

I took note of my emotions and was able to answer a lot of questions.

I discovered I had a real fear of the topic moving on before I could contribute to the idea. This was, of course, easily squashed by the logical side of my brain. After all, I can always circle back to an idea after the fact. This helped calm any knee-jerk reactions I had and leads to…

How to Cope With Chronic Interrupters

The reality is that there are only so many interruptions a discussion can take before it ceases to be a discussion. For this reason, chronic interruptions are conversation killers that disrupt a healthy exchange of information. After all, if everyone is talking, then no one is listening.

Consequently, it is important you know how to handle frequent interruptions before they completely erode your relationship or your work environment. Here are some tips for dealing with chronic interrupters in your life.

Address it Before You Start Talking

If your chronic interrupter is a coworker, it might be helpful to address interruptions before they even occur. For instance, before giving your presentation, you can preview what you plan to say and stipulate when would be a good time to ask questions or break-in.

If people do interrupt while you are talking, you could remind them that there will be a point for them to ask questions or make comments in a few minutes.

Of course, you might be able to use this same tactic with a partner by saying something like, "There are a lot of different parts to this story; so bear with me. I want you to be able to grasp the entire picture before you ask questions, OK?"

Discuss the Interruptions During a Neutral Time

Whether your chronic interrupter is someone on your staff or your partner at home, it is a good idea to discuss the interruptions at a time when you both are calm and objective. Talk to the person about what you’ve experienced and explain how it affects you using “I” statements instead of pointing the finger or making accusations.

It's also important to give the interrupter the benefit of the doubt. Some people simply do not realize that they interrupt as much as they do. And, if you frame your thoughts objectively, it's more likely to produce behavioral change.

Decide How to Handle Future Interruptions

Once you have had a discussion or two about the chronic interruptions, you need to think about how you will respond when it happens again—because it will. No one can change a pattern of behavior instantaneously.

As a result, when you are interrupted in the future, you have several options. For instance, you can ignore the interruption and keep talking; you can stop talking altogether, or you can ask "May I finish?" and then continue on. You can even walk away from the conversation if you want.

The key is that you are prepared ahead of time on how you will handle interruptions, maintain focus, and not let them derail you. If you allow interrupters to hijack the conversation, there is no motivation for them to stop what they are doing. They are still getting what they want when they interrupt.

Consider Your Own Communication Style

Take a good, hard look at how you communicate. Do you share long, drawn-out stories? Could you be succinct and to-the-point? Perhaps your communication style could be changed or improved to deter interruptions in some way, especially if you tend to monopolize the conversation.

Be open to feedback from the interrupter about your communication style as well. It could be that you are being interrupted because you are not giving anyone else the space to share their ideas as well. It also helps to have confidence when you are talking. People are less likely to interrupt when you are speaking with authority.

Try the ‘Repeat Back’ Method

During stressful conversations or fights, Racine suggests repeating back what your partner has just relayed. Not verbatim, but a reframing of what was said that shows them that you not only heard it, but that you also understood it. “It’s a really good listening technique,” she says. “So if someone says, ‘I’m angry at you because you hurt my feelings,’ saying back to them, ‘So what you’re saying is, because I did this thing that caused you pain, you’re now angry at me for not making a better decision.’ That way, the conversation stays about what they’re trying to convey and what they’re saying to you, and less about your reactivity to it.”

What to do when some constantly interrupts you?

There are different strategies you can use when someone constantly interrupts you. The goal is to be firm, but kind. Getting angry won’t stop the person from interrupting or help your relationship with the person.

1 – Ignore the interruption

When someone interrupts you sometimes it’s best to ignore the interruption and keep talking. Everyone communicates differently, and sometimes people get excited about what they’re hearing and interrupt because of their excitement. It’s not worth it to address an interruption every time it happens.

2 – Set communication rules

If you’re leading a meeting, it’s important to set some general communications rules at the onset of the conversation. At the beginning of the meeting, say something like,

“ Just as a reminder, please hold your thoughts and questions until each speaker has finished sharing their thoughts.”

Some leaders use a silent hand-in-the-air signal to stop people who start to interrupt. This reminds the interrupter to stop talking without drawing attention to them in the middle of the meeting.

If someone interrupts and doesn’t see the signal, you may need to stop the speaker and give a general reminder again, but look at the person who interrupted.

3 – Ask questions

Stop the speaker and ask questions. This allows the interrupter to say what they wanted to say. Sometimes, they have good thoughts or concerns, but they lack the self-control to wait. So, asking a question provides them an outlet. Say something like,

“So, are there any thoughts or questions so far about what __________has shared with us?”

This allows the interrupter to share their thoughts and can help them give up interrupting when the speaker continues.

4 – Confront the interrupter

If you’ve tried various strategies to stop an interrupter without success, the best policy may be to address them. If while you or someone else is speaking, the interrupter blurbs out their thoughts, say something like,

“I want to hear what you have to say,_________, but could you let me finish my thoughts first?”

5 – Gender views of interrupting

Interestingly enough, there is a gender view of interrupting. In a study, 5,000 adults listened to an audio clip of a man and woman in a conversation. During the clip, they both interrupt one another. Those who listened to the audio clip were asked which speaker was rude and which one was just excited.

The majority of men who watched the audio clip said the woman was rude and unfriendly compared to how they viewed the man who also interrupted. When they asked women which person was being rude, they didn’t pick on gender more than another. In general, women who interrupt during a conversation are seen as lacking intelligence or dumb.

For women, it’s hard to break through this double standard. Although it’s unfair, being aware of an existing gender perception helps you adjust how to portray your passion in conversations. For instance, one notable way the women in the Obama White House shared their passion at work was to frame it as a concern for others.  This worked because, in society, women are viewed as caregivers.

For men, knowing this bias exists should help you adjust your thinking about women in the middle of conversions.

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What if you’re the one who interrupts people?

Perhaps you find yourself interrupting people. If you lean towards engaging people in a layered style of conversation, you may not have realized you were considered rude until someone pointed it out to you. So, how can you stop interrupting people? Here are a few strategies that may work for you.

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1 – Try not to think about what to say

You’ll get yourself in trouble if you half-listen, half figure out how you want to answer. You may be tempted to jump in with your thought before the person finishes. When you do this, it’s easy to miss out on what the person was saying. Stay engaged. Don’t form an answer in your brain. Simply listen.

2 – Count to twenty

If you constantly interrupt people, you need to slow down your response time. Take a moment, count to twenty, then if the other person is really finished, you can respond. It can be extremely hard at first with so many thoughts swirling in your head, but that’s okay. Keep at it. Slowing down your response will make you less apt to interrupt people.

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3 – Don’t try to solve the person’s problems

Oftentimes, people aren’t looking for a solution, they just want someone to listen to them. It’s not your job to fix people, but to be a listening ear and support to them. If they ask you for input, of course, share your thoughts. Allowing others to share while you listen will deepen your friendship simply because they feel like you care enough to listen to them.

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