Why People Interrupt (and what to do about it)Have you ever been speaking with a colleague, client, boss or employee and it seems no matter what you do, you keep getting interrupted? You begin a sentence, then suddenly, someone jumps in to complete it. Even if the person is right on target with your thoughts, you find it frustrating. Worse yet, is when the interrupter takes your half-finished thought in a completely different direction than you'd intended. And he or she would have known that, if he or she had only let you finish without interrupting. Grrrr.
Maddening, isn't it? Makes you feel like you're not being heard. If it happens often enough, you may even stop injecting comments into the conversation. "Why bother?", you tell yourself, "I'm only going to be cut off". Soon you convince yourself it's not worth the effort. Further, you conclude that the person interrupting is an insensitive boar who is so intent on getting his or her message out, that they walk all over yours.
The end result? Your relationship suffers. You feel a great sense of disconnect toward this person, perhaps even anger and resentment.
At a moment like this, you have a choice. You can allow negative emotions to usurp you, or you can choose an alternate path (and I hope you choose this one): you can shift your thinking by asking yourself if their behavior is intentional.
COMMUNICATION TIP: ASK YOURSELF IF THEY INTEND TO OFFEND? (They probably don't).
Connecting with others and communicating well begins with considering the other person's perspective. At the root of relationships is a magic seed called, "intent". Sometimes people can be painfully irritating AND simultaneously, blissfully unaware. If there is no deliberate intent on their part, it makes the behavior much more tolerable -- not necessarily acceptable, just tolerable. It will buy you a little more patience for them and their behavior if you acknowledge that you are not being deliberately targeted. They are not deliberately setting out to irritate. So why spend your limited energy being offended when none was intended?
It may be how they process.
- Here's the reality: some people interrupt because it's how they process and interpret information. In their exuberance to show you they're on the same wavelength as you, in an effort to express enthusiasm in the subject at hand, they interrupt and ironically sabotage their very efforts to connect with you. It's not meant to be rude or disrespectful. Actually, quite to the contrary -- it's often intended as a sign that they are actively engaged in what you're saying. They want to demonstrate to you that they understand so well what you're saying, that they complete the sentence for you.
It may come from a place of service.
- If you are the type of communicator that requires long pauses between thoughts as you process information, you might unknowingly be inviting this interrupting behavior. Sometimes people interrupt thinking that a prolonged pause is an invitation to fill in the blank. Or they believe they are helping provide a service to find the words for what they see as you grappling. They fill in the blanks, the voids, the dead air with thoughts they believe you are trying to express.
It may be time pressures.
- Other times, people are just rushed and need to speed up the communication process and get on to the other million tasks that beckon them. Interrupting is their way, albeit ineffective, of keeping the conversation moving at breakneck speed. They are juggling so many balls and are so time-crunched, they are oblivious as to how they are potentially damaging a relationship so they can run to the next urgent matter yelling for their attention.
It may be anger or frustration.
- If someone has tried several times to speak up and feels that they are not being heard, they may resort to interrupting. It's not right or necessarily effective. It is, however, a very human response, and we all do it from time to time. Ask yourself if this person is constantly interrupting you, or is it only when you're discussing certain volatile, emotional subjects? If he or she is angry or passionate about the subject being discussed, as frustrating as you being interrupted may be, it's less about you than it is about his or her need to be heard. It's not necessarily against you; it's for them.
POINT: people seldom interrupt with the specific intent of irritating you... with one exception ...
It may be a bully.
- NOTE: The rules of normal communication don't apply to bullies. They think and act aggressively, with intent to hurt, with specific "targets" (people) in mind, and with repeated action. Let me be clear here -- there are people you think may be bullies, but they're not. Even though their behaviour is deplorable, rude, and does nothing to foster relationships, these people interrupt without intention. They don't mean to. That's not an excuse, it's an explanation. Bullies are different. They interrupt deliberately and with the purpose of demeaning and belittling specific targets. They don't behave this way to everyone -- it's not part of their speech pattern with the world. It's a technique they use to prove their superiority only with select individuals. Bullies mean to cut you off at the knees. If they have an audience, even better for them. They pick on one or several targeted people repeatedly, whereas they are polite and tolerant and don't interrupt others. These are bullies, and they are different. Your response to them is completely different. Speak to them directly and let them know that their behaviour is inappropriate. Draw the line in the sand. Don't let them push you around. Speak to your boss and/or HR office. Document everything and build a case. In this article, I'm NOT talking about bullies. I'm talking about regular people who are unaware of their irritating interrupting habit. They do it to everyone.
1) Speak faster, get to the point, don't ramble
2) Invite comments before you complete your thought (engage the listener)
3) Ask the interrupter to give you a sec to finish what you were saying (interrupt the interrupter)
It all begins with how you think. Take responsibility for that piece and your role in the communication dance, and you'll be amazed at how you can change the dynamics between you and others. PS: Have comments on this article? Post them below in our blog.
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Better communication, better business, better life,
Marion Grobb Finkelstein
© 2011 Marion Grobb Finkelstein
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