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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. Grrrrrrrr ...

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. 

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
    2)  Invite comments before you complete your thought
    3)  Ask the interrupter to give you a sec to finish what you were saying

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.

IS YOUR ORGANIZATION PLANNING A CONFERENCE OR RETREAT? Need a dynamic speaker at your next gathering? Let's chat! Just drop me a line at Marion@MarionSpeaks.com 
Until next time,
Better communication, better business, better life,
Marion Grobb Finkelstein
COMMUNICATION CATALYST

Marion@MarionSpeaks.com
www.MarionSpeaks.com
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 © 2011 Marion Grobb Finkelstein
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Comments
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!

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