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How to Deal with Interruptions

What should I do when I’m interrupted (in an interview, presentation, conversation)?

One of the most common questions we get asked in our training courses.

Other questions that you may often ask yourself are:

Why do I keep getting interrupted?

Why is nobody listening to my point?

Is it my dull tone? My volume?


Constant interruptions can undermine your confidence.

Leading to a fear of making your point.

They can even cause you to act rashly, by verbally insulting your interrupter, or worse.

They also disrupt workflow and team dynamics.

When you have the solutions to deal with them, it’s amazing what happens.

And once you get used to them, life becomes much easier.

Here’s how to break the cycle of interruptions before it breaks you.

List – Identifying different types of interruption

First, it’s worth identifying the different types of interruption.

  1. The casual interrupter – interrupts without considering the effect on the person speaking.
  2. The polite interrupter – asks for permission from you to speak.
  3. The benevolent interrupter – attempts to ‘save’ you by summarising your point.
  4. The insulting interrupter – attempts to get under your skin with a personal insult.
  5. The aggressive interrupter – attempts to shout you down by speaking loudly.
  6. The constant interrupter – regularly disrupts the steady flow of conversation.
  7. The justified interrupter – someone who cuts you short out of necessity.

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Defining and responding to different types of interruption

The casual interrupter

Definition: someone who interrupts without considering the effect on the person speaking.

The interrupter often looks for reassurance from the group that it’s ok to interrupt.

If you’ve been interrupted, the best way to deny that legitimacy is to keep on talking.

Raise your voice slightly, and keep going.

You’ve drowned them out by denying them oxygen.

After you’ve finished, by all means, come back to the person and ask them:

“Did you have something to add?”

Solution: keep talking, and raise your voice slightly.

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The polite interrupter

Definition: the interrupter asks for permission from you to speak.

Most people feel awkward about interrupting. So they ask:

“Can I just make a point there please?”

It’s a direct question, so give a direct answer.

“No – I’d rather finish, but I’ll be happy to hear your thoughts when I’m done”.

Be careful of the tone here.

It too needs to be polite, to match the tone of the interruption.

Body language is important too. It’s very easy to look away, so look at the person in the eyes.

They’ll be more likely to trust that you’re being fair.

Solution: answer the question, and continue to make your point.

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The benevolent interrupter

Definition: someone who attempts to ‘save’ you by summarising your point.

“I think what Sally is trying to say is…”

Followed by a misinterpretation of your point.

It’s intensely frustrating – and needs correction.

“No – my point is that…”

A lie unchallenged becomes the truth – so challenge the lie.

Solution: challenge the interrupter, set the record straight and move on.

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The insulting interrupter

Definition: the interrupter attempts to get under your skin with a personal insult.

“Clearly Jim doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Let me take over…”

When personal insults are flung, it’s time to get personal back.

But do this in private, showing restraint and respect in front of the group.

Any comments made publicly should focus purely on the steps above, without resorting to a tit-tat in front of your colleagues.

Solution: be the bigger person, by showing assertiveness and raising the issue privately.

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The aggressive interrupter

Definition: the interrupter attempts to shout you down by speaking loudly, or banging the table with their fists.

If someone is being aggressive, best to let them vent.

A boiling kettle, after all, will continue to boil if you put your hand over it.

You’ll get burnt too.

Allow the interrupter to vent, before coming back with a far more reasonable, calmly-delivered point.

The group will appreciate that you’ve handled the incident sensitively.

Now you have to decide how to deal with the aggressor.

It may be through HR, or by speaking to the person directly to discuss the incident.

Either way, the long-term issue needs addressing.

Solution: let the interrupter vent, and deal with it after the meeting.

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The constant interrupter

Definition: a chronic interrupter, who regularly disrupts the steady flow of conversation.

Particularly if you are a manager, this behaviour needs to be dealt with privately.

First, by using the tools above to drown their voice out.

Second, by having a one-to-one and making the person aware of their behaviour.

Ask them to consider the effect their interruptions are having on the team dynamic and team relationships.

Solution: deal with it first, then set up a one-to-one.

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The justified interrupter

Definition: someone who cuts you short out of necessity.

We’ve all been there when someone has been speaking for too long without a break.

The meeting was meant to finish ten minutes ago.

Or you’re still on agenda item one when you’re supposed to be on number three.

Or the person started on logistics and is now discussing their upcoming holiday.

There has to be a moment when someone steps in.

Ideally, it’s the Chair – but if they’re unused to Chairing or worried about offending, it may be a colleague.

If you’re getting interrupted regularly by different people, ask them why.

They may have a legitimate reason.

And if so, it’s time to make shorter points or change your behaviour.

Here’s more on how to get straight to the point.

Solution: speak to the interrupter, and change your style.

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Now handle interruptions with confidence

Using these tips, you can get over any fear of making your point.

Remember this blog to prevent acting rashly the next time you are interrupted.

Handle interruptions with confidence to maintain your workflow and team dynamics.

Trust me, once you get used to speaking in this way, life becomes much easier.

For more training tips from our team of experienced professionals check out our training blog.

Andrew McFarlan is the Managing Director of Pink Elephant Communications in Glasgow.

You can view his full profile here.

Photo credit // Photo by Marcos Luiz Photograph on Unsplash // Photo by Headway on Unsplash // // Photo by on Unsplash // Photo by Isaiah Rustad on Unsplash // Photo by Antenna on Unsplash //

9th April 2018 Featured in: Blog By:

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