by Connie Dieken

How to Communicate with An Interrupter

It appeared to be an ambush worthy of the Kayne West Seal of Approval. Recently, an Academy Award winner was rudely interrupted mid-acceptance by a woman who appeared to big foot her way into his big moment. More than 41 million telecast viewers were confounded. Twitter and Facebook erupted with news of "the interrupter."

Turns out, the interrupter was no interloper. She was his co-winner. Tangled in a credit-hogging turf war, the two had raced to the stage to get in the first word. He ran a lot faster. As she burst onto the glittering platform, she hijacked the microphone and cut him off before clutching her shiny statuette.

What does this case of communication-interruptus have to do with you?

Chances are someone has rudely interrupted you in the last 24 hours, if not the last 24 minutes. Interrupting is escalating. Cutting people off and talking over them has become the new norm in our demanding, impatient, instant gratification world. The Academy Award scene is playing out everywhere - in boardrooms, meeting rooms, lunchrooms, phone calls, even on Capitol Hill. Everybody wants to get a word in edgewise.

Isn't it frustrating to be plowed over by someone who thinks the only voice worth listening to is his own? Beyond simple rudeness on the part of some communicators, I'd like to offer a few possibilities on why more people are cutting you off, how to prevent it, and how to handle those relentless, habitual interrupters.

Why it's happening

Face it, some people are rude. But these old school interrupters are now joined by a new breed of interrupters: The Chronically Impatient. Buoyed by instant technology and addicted to speed, these pragmatic people are having a tough time tolerating long winded ramblers. The Chronically Impatient value time, clarity, and action and they want you to get to the point, pronto. If you dilly dally, they'll either nudge you with a brief interjectory question or they'll outright overpower you and butt in as if your words don't matter.

How to prevent it

  • Sound confident. If you speak with conviction, people are more likely to show their respect by listening instead of dismissing your ideas and talking over you.
  • Don't be long winded. Lengthy explanations invite interruptions, so get to your point quickly. One technique I lay out in Talk Less, Say More is to frontload your messages to meet people's specific needs and values. Busy people want you to convey brief, meaty ideas so they can get back to the gazillion others things on their to-do lists.
  • Don't hog the floor. Sometimes people interrupt because it's the only way they feel they can get a word in edgewise. Do you dominate discussions? If so, that may induce interruptions. Watch for signals and be aware of when others want to contribute.
  • Stop speed talking. If you've ever received feedback that you're a fast talker, chances are you're often interrupted. Why? After all, you're talking as fast as you can. Bingo. Some people can't digest what you're saying at a high rate of speed, so they cut in to catch up.

How to handle interrupters

Managing interrupters is situational. The first step is to figure out why people are cutting in. Are they rude or are you inadvertently inviting interruptions? If you feel it's the other person's fault, here are a few options to handle the situation:

  • The polite but firm "right back at ya." Sometimes you must return the dirty deed with a polite retort, saying something like, "Excuse me, Debbie, but I didn't get to finish. I'd like to add that..."
  • The private chat. If a problem persists, privately inquire, "Did you realize that you frequently interrupt me? Is there something I can do to help solve the issue?" Often, pragmatic people are used to being rewarded for being a contributor and they have no idea they're hurting your feelings.
  • Establish meeting rules. In some office cultures, meetings are a free-for-all. If enough people are upset, why not work out a system for taking turns? Allot a time limit and seek contributions from everyone. If people know they'll have an opportunity to talk, they're more likely to wait their turn.
  • Keep right on talking. Dealing with a relentless interrupter who just won't stop? The unconventional, last ditch approach of forging ahead with your sentence and adding more volume delivers a jarring and unmistakable message. It conveys that you're sick of being rudely interrupted and you're just not taking it anymore.

Topics: Communication Skills :: Talk Less, Say More