Almost immediately after last week’s communication newsletter went out (focused on what the research says about interruptions), “Sue” emailed me:
My first reaction is that I concur. It is shocking how some people interrupt frequently and seem oblivious to how rude and disruptive it is.
My second reaction is that I think these people have low external self-awareness. They may or may not have high internal self-awareness. But they certainly lack external self-awareness.
The next question is, what to do about it?
How do you typically respond to being INTERRUPTED?
- Do you stop and stare in disbelief?
- Do you lash out and scream, “How dare you!”?
- Do you carry on as if nothing has happened?
- Do you call them out?
- Do you crack a joke?
This week, I share a few tips to help you cope with interruptions, whether you’re being interrupted, or considering interrupting someone else.
3 things to Talk About this week:
1. A formula for responding to interruptions (step-by-step – this works!)
2. How to interrupt effectively (sometimes it must be done!)
3. A hack to fight the urge to interrupt! (helpful advice from one of my podcast guests)
1️⃣ A formula for responding to interruptions
Being interrupted feels awful. But no matter how rude the interruption is, or how disrespected you feel, I suggest being strategic and thoughtful about how you respond.
FIRST – Track the ratio. If you’ve been doing most of the talking, it’s possible that the interruption was warranted. The best think you can do might be to stop talking and listen.
SECOND – Consider the status of the person with whom you’re talking. It’s expected that higher-status people, like your boss, will do more talking. Their interruptions will have little affect on your own status.
In a work context, if you’re interrupted by a peer or someone who may be seeking status or power over you, I suggest you respond using this simple and effective formula:
2. Pause and take a breath – You’ll feel calmer after a deep breath. Slow your exhale, in particular.
3. Make direct eye contact – This will get the attention of the interrupter.
4. State their name, then tell them you’re going to finish your point before handing it over to them – As in, “Steve, I’d love to hear what you have to add. But first, …” This allows you to respectfully acknowledge that someone else has something to say, and it re-directs attention back to you and the point you were making.
2️⃣ How to interrupt effectively
In general, we should avoid interrupting others, but I can think of at least two specific occasions in which an interjection may be necessary.
1. You’ve tracked the ratio and found that you’ve spoken way less than your fair share. You have an important point that needs to be heard and someone else is “hogging the mic.”
2. You’re leading a meeting and want to ensure that everyone has a chance to be heard.
My number one piece of advice when you feel you must interrupt is to be gracious and recognize or acknowledge the person you’re interrupting.
I advise against apologizing or seeking permission, unless the person you’re about to interrupt is your superior. Saying things like, “I’m sorry, but can I just add something?” or “Do you mind if I add something here?” sounds weak.
Instead, try something like, “Xavian, I agree this is an important point. Your point made me think of something else we should consider.”
Acknowledge the other speaker’s point and respectfully re-direct to yours or someone else’s.
It’s almost like the “YES AND” line from improv:
- YES – “I agree this is an important point”
- AND – “here’s something else we should consider.”
3️⃣ A hack to fight the urge to interrupt!
Do you ever find yourself interjecting before the other person has finished speaking?
As Deloitte senior partner Jennifer Lee shared in a previous Talk About Talk episode focused on “Communicating with Impact” (ep.112), interrupting is something that we’re all guilty of, and one of the main reasons we interrupt is our need to “get it out.”
I love Jennifer’s simple interruption hack: carry a notebook with you and scribble away! This is especially helpful in meetings or presentations, or any time you worry you’ll forget what you had to say.
Executive Communication Coach
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