How to interrupt the interrupter

When people seem incapable of hearing you out, there are ways of making them listen

Benefit of the doubt:  interrupters  may not realise their tendency to interrupt.  Photograph: Johnny Greig/Getty

Benefit of the doubt: interrupters may not realise their tendency to interrupt. Photograph: Johnny Greig/Getty

 

All of us have known colleagues, friends or romantic partners who seem unable to let us finish a sentence. How do you handle them effectively? Here are some simple strategies.

1 Pre-empt the interrupter

Of course, you can ask the person who interrupted to allow you to finish what you were saying. Even better, before you start talking, preview what you plan to say and stipulate when it’s okay to break in. Workplace consultant Laura Rose suggests saying: “There are a lot of different pieces to this explanation. I want to tell you the entire story. Then I want to get your thoughts on specific details.”

This type of preview may stop the interrupter before he or she starts.

2 Hold a constructive private conversation

If the interruptions continue, speak to the person in private. Give the interrupter the benefit of the doubt; they may not realise their tendency to interrupt. Talk to the person about what you’ve observed, and for how long, and explain how it affects you (and others, if appropriate). This straight talk, when framed constructively, is likely to produce a behavioural change.

3 Enlist the group

If you’d prefer to avoid embarrassing the interrupter, you can address the whole group without pointing fingers. Ask the group to reflect on whether you are communicating effectively together and what could be improved. This strategy would allow every member, including you, to raise their awareness of challenges facing the group, a first important step in addressing problems like this one.

Copyright Harvard Business Review 2017

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