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Why People Interrupt (and what to do about it)

Marion Grobb Finkelstein - Tuesday, August 02, 2011

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 boor 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. 

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.
Bullies aside, once you understand that we're all different, it helps to build bridges between communication styles. If you're dealing with someone who interrupts, you might not be able to change his or her behavior, but you can sure change yours. If you find you're constantly being interrupted by all types of people, it might be YOUR communication style that needs tweaking. Here's some suggestions:

    1)  Speak faster, get to the point, don't ramble
    2)  Invite comments before you complete your thought (engage the listener)
    3)  A
sk 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.

NOTE: sometimes interrupting IS rude, aggressive and intentional. Want tips to know how to handle THAT situation? See my other blogs on the subject by clicking

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Until next time,
Better communication, better business, better life,
Marion Grobb Finkelstein

 © 2011 Marion Grobb Finkelstein
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Arlene High commented on 03-Aug-2011 03:51 PM
I loved this Marion, I constantly stuggle with interrupting people because I feel so connected to what they are saying. I hope they understand!
Marion Grobb Finkelstein commented on 03-Aug-2011 04:23 PM
Arlene, I'm sure many will understand ... especially when they read this article. Share it with them! ;o)
Anonymous commented on 20-Sep-2011 01:15 PM
Suffering from a disconnect right now in a relationship because my friend is constantly interrupting me. Most of the time it is in public meetings so I will not correct her in public. But it occurs all the time. Often, I just shut up and bite my lip. Other
times I have continued my thought to see if she would get the message. Then the poor third party has two people talking at once as my friend does not get the message and continues talking. I am thinking disrespect, rude, not listening, etc. It has caused hurt
feelings on my part. Your article is the only one I have seen that basically says I am responsible for my feelings and the interrupter is probably not intending to offend. I wonder if we can get this relationship back on track. Thanks for your article.
Marion Grobb Finkelstein commented on 20-Sep-2011 05:43 PM
Dear Anonymous, coming from a place of believing no ill intent is meant is the healthiest place to live. Speak to your colleague and let him/her know how it feels and looks from your perspective, acknowledging that you know there is no ill intent in this
behavior (you don't KNOW that, just make this assumption as it allow the person to save face). Communication is all about respect. Respect his/her needs and make sure that yours are expressed too ... and if he/she responds in the spirit in which it's intended
(let him/her know your intent is to nurture the relationship by sharing this info), your relationship has a good shot at being even stronger.
guest commented on 14-Mar-2012 07:13 PM
While all valid points, it should not be the responsibility of the speaker to adjust for errors in conversation. The person doing the interrupting is most often at fault.
Marion Grobb Finkelstein commented on 14-Mar-2012 08:36 PM
Dear guest, thanks for your comment. You're right to note that it is the responsibility of the person speaking to stop interrupting. Unfortunately, you can't control him or her to do so. Therefore, the only person you can control is yourself and how you
react to the interrupter. My articles are written from the viewpoint of what the reader can do in any given situation,not what other people can do. NOTE: look forward to an upcoming article where I present the FLIP side ... that is, if it's YOU who is interrupting
all the time, how it appears and how to adjust that behavior to better serve you. Now that's a message interrupters will benefit from... let's hope they read it!
Anonymous commented on 10-May-2014 09:55 AM
I did not find this helpful. It doesn't seem to solve the problem. It basically tells me to ignore it. I could be 2 sentences into what I am trying to say and my friend interrupts me. Often with something off topic, or with just a contrary view rooted completely in emotion not fact. What should I do about that?
Marion Grobb Finkelstein commented on 12-May-2014 07:26 PM
Dear Anonymous, I understand your frustration of being interrupted constantly. The article presents the viewpoint of WHY people interrupt. Once you know (or assume, in the face of any info suggesting otherwise) that they're not doing it to deliberately disrupt, it buys a bit of patientce. Try using the 3 techniques the article suggests ...
1) Speak faster
2) Invite comments before you complete your thought
3) Ask the interrupter to give you a sec to finish what you were saying

Stay tuned for more articles on this subject, and feel free to email me anytime at
Anonymous commented on 21-Jun-2014 06:17 PM
Appreciate this post. Will try it out.
Marigen commented on 30-Jun-2014 12:26 PM
My sister talks alot and barely lets me participate, same when we are chatting. I once was waiting for her to finish typing and suddenly she wrote good bye and left..kind of felt ignored
Marion Grobb Finkelstein commented on 06-Jul-2014 01:00 PM
Hi Marigen. I understand your frustration with your sister. What do you think is her intention? Is she meaning to offend you? (because her behavior is certainly offensive). You deserve to be heard. Her being oblivious is no excuse, it's an explanation. Here's a suggestion -- when she's engaged in some activity, like typing, interrupt HER to let her know you'd like to chat, you see she's busy now, and ask when would be a good time. Assert yourself by balancing out her right to get her task done and your right to be listened to.
Anonymous commented on 24-Aug-2014 07:31 AM
As a crafts person who sells to the public and deals with the abundance of humans whose communication skills are often sadly lacking, I have seen all of the styles mentioned above but there is the less benign interrupter; the insecure one upper who constantly injects their own experience into the conversation and is often off point. Or the controller who asks questions and seems to be interested but never lets you answer their very question. Let's face it, most people are too self involved to really care about a meeting of the minds. I have found that as soon as someone starts to interrupt me I just stop talking and wait to see if the person is interested enough to ask me what I was saying. they rarely do. It is a great joy when I do meet someone and the conversation and life experiences can flow between two separate realities.
Anonymous commented on 06-Sep-2014 12:14 PM
Thank you so much, Marion! I have a constant "interrupter" in my life. I now realize after reading your article I now realize the person is showing enthusiasm and interest in the conversation. I can see that there is no "intent". It was beginning to make me very angry and I felt as if I just wasn't being listened to. I see so clearly now that interrupting is actually his way of showing a lot of interest. Again, thank you so much.
Ken commented on 09-Sep-2014 11:46 AM
We mentally process thoughts faster than we can form the words to express them and so often reach a solution, conclusion, or new inspiration before the other person has completely expressed his/herself. Short-term memory may also play a role; we may feel the need to get our thought into words before we lose it. But I believe the biggest reason people interrupt--and I'm surprised that you and others who write on this subject don't put it at the top of the list--is because they don't listen. And that is rude. Listening skills don't seem to be a priority these days, and they are at the root of all successful relationships.
Marion Grobb Finkelstein commented on 03-Dec-2014 03:30 PM
Dear Anonymous (from 24 Aug 2014): You are right that interrupting is often rude and gives the message that the person doesn't care or have interest in your responses. I feel your frustration and here's what I suggest ... ASSERT YOURSELF.

Instead of clamming up and withdrawing from the conversation (which is actually being passive aggressive), assert your right to be heard and regain balance in the conversation flow. Use the 3 tips I've given above in the article as a start, and if you want more help getting over this stumbling block, let me know (email: I have coaching and programs that may help. Check out my website at

You don't need to suffer like this, feeling frustrated, not respected, not valued. Take steps to learn the skills that will help you to get your voice heard.
Marion Grobb Finkelstein commented on 03-Dec-2014 03:33 PM
Dear Anonymous (6 Sept 2014): Glad these tips have helped! Changing your mindset is the first step to getting different results. Let me know how it goes for you.
Marion Grobb Finkelstein commented on 03-Dec-2014 03:49 PM
Hey Ken, thanks for your comments. Being True Colors and Personality Dimensions certified, I can tell you without doubt that certain personalities have a propensity to interrupt. It might not be intentional, but the results of them doing so may nevertheless damage relationships. On the upside, these people are typically outgoing, great conversation starters and are comfortable in mix'n mingle situations. We need them.

Alternately, there are other personality types who quite naturally are fantastic listeners. They feel most comfortable absorbing information at their own pace, synthesizing it, and then offering their input when they're ready. That, right there, is the rub, "when they're ready". Sometimes they don't respond because they need time to process. It can look to others as disinterest, withdrawing or not contributing. On the upside, these people are typically amazing listeners who present well thought-out responses and enjoy working on their own. We need them too.

It is just as hard for some people to stop interrupting and listen, as it is for others to speak up and assert themselves. Both personality types have their gifts and their challenges. The opportunity here is to recognize what yours are and how to modify your behavior to best connect with others.
Russ commented on 05-Dec-2014 03:09 AM
I guess I'm not very nice... after 2 or 3 interruptions I tell my friend "will you shut-up until Im finished?"
"Can you shut-up till i'mdone or are you not capable of shutting your pie holr.
If I want to be nice I will let them talk and then say "Are you done yet? I'm ready to finish my story if your done interrupting."
I guess that since im old now I really don't care what they think.
Sharon MacDonald commented on 10-Dec-2014 09:01 AM
Hi Marion, I want to say that I enjoy reading the articles you share with your audience. You never know where that one tidbit of "ah ha" information may come from...

It wasn't until the first time I read your article some years ago on this topic that I realized I was one of those "interrupting" people (not a constant interrupter, but an interrupter nonetheless). After I digested the information in your article, I realized I had to make a change. Thanks to your comments and your readers tips and comments I've made a conscientious effort to listen more and speak only after the other person has finished their conversation.

Marion, I read all your articles and some may or may not apply, but the information you provide is valuable to your audience. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous commented on 10-Dec-2014 10:12 AM
I have a coworker who consistently interrupts everyone and while it does make it more tolerable knowing it's not intentionally towards anyone in particular, it's still extremely rude, irritating and inefficient (especially when this person interrupts both sides of the conversation between two other people).

Would a proper course of action be to raise this issue with their supervisor and have them address it with their employee? I don't know if it's necessarily my place to have this direct discussion with the "interrupter", not that I have a problem doing so. Thanks.
Marion Grobb Finkelstein commented on 16-Dec-2014 07:08 PM
Hi Sharon. Thanks for your feedback and big CONGRATS on recognizing your behaviour and how it may not be serving you and others ... and for grabbing control and changing it. In doing so, you have succeeded in changing the dynamics of your communication, for the better. Good on you!
Marion Grobb Finkelstein commented on 16-Dec-2014 07:21 PM
Dear Anonymous (10 Dec 2014), here's my slice on your situation -- as this is a peer, it's appropriate for you to say something directly to this person IF the interrupter is a close confidante and you have the type of relationship where you are upfront and candid with each other. If not, then it's only appropriate for you to say something to this person if they are interrupting YOU or if they interrupt a colleague in a conversation you are part of. The former would sound like this -- as soon as you're interrupted, you would say, -- Joe, excuse me, I do want to hear your feedback, I just want to finish my thought here first so you get the whole picture before you comment -- Remember, HOW you say it is just as important as what you say. Come from a place of support and respect, considering his perspective and assuming no ill intent. If the person is being outright rude and aggressive, be assertive and firm, and always respectful. If you're witnessing this interrupter cutting into a colleague's sentence and you're one of the listeners, turn to the interrupter and say, Jane, just a sec. I want to hear what Dan had to say;. Or simply turn to Dan and say, Sorry Dan, what were you saying? I would not advise jumping hierarchy and going to this person's boss. If anything, manage the situation yourself as a peer-to-peer, and failing that, speak to your own boss. Following the chain of authority will be seen as more professional than jumping the chain which may be (incorrectly) perceived as "snitching". Give that a try, and let me know your results.
Carol commented on 27-Mar-2015 02:51 PM
I find asking if you can have a second to finish is good, or ask the question:
Was I just interrupted?

When one person interrupts me, It is because i have been asked a question, which takes attention from them.
As I answer the question, they will interrupt asking the listener a question on a totally different subject.
"So, have you been golfing lately?"
The listener doesn't know who to listen to.
In this case, it is to fill their need to be the center of attention, and not permit another to be the focal point. This is probably rare, but almost humorous and predictable.
Shawn commented on 12-Aug-2015 05:19 PM
Why are you counseling people to subsidize childish, selfish behavior by telling ways to enable it?! ("Talk faster.") NO! Stop interrupting and LISTEN! A conversation between people who wish to have a relationship demands mutual respect! Period. Or there is no relationship. We're not talking about someone who is never finished talking and interprets any reply as an interrupt; that is a different, annoying character issue.

Bottom line: grow up and show respect or you'll live a very lonely life.
Marion Grobb Finkelstein commented on 17-Aug-2015 11:27 AM
Carol (27 March 2015), it's great that you can find the humour in this frustrating situation... good on you! I agree that some people who interrupt do it to draw the attention completely to them. They're bored with the topic and instead of handling it like a grown up, resort to childish tactics, as you've described. It's not right, it just is. The tips I suggested may help in this situation, along with your suggestions too. Saying that you're not finished is completely legit. Your story or message is just as important as someone else's. Unfortunately, we can't change other people, we can just assume responsibility for our own actions and change them. Realizing what we can do to minimize the risk of being interrupted (e.g., getting to the point faster, asking for input, not rambling on), and then managing the situation when we are, speaks to how WE communicate, not them. Bravo on you!

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