It happens at work, home, and school. You’re in the middle of a conversation and someone interrupts you before you can finish your thought.  It’s maddening. Everyone is guilty of interrupting once in a while, but what do you do when someone is a chronic interrupter? How can you deal kindly, but firmly with them when someone interrupts you?

Why do people interrupt?

There are many reasons why people interrupt during a conversation. Most of the time, they aren’t trying to be rude. It’s a good idea to understand why someone interrupts so you can better deal with them. Here are some common reasons why people interrupt.

1 – They interrupt because they’re processing

Some people process their ideas out loud. They get excited as they begin to understand your point. They want to agree, to interject their support and enthusiasm to you, but it comes off as a rude interruption. These people seem impolite, and out of control, but they are actually engaging with you.

2 – They interrupt to help

Other people interrupt because they want to help. During a conversation, they fill in your gaps and interject their thoughts. These people don’t like pauses,  they get uncomfortable with silence so they’ll make a funny comment. They’re not trying to be cheeky, but trying to put you at ease. It may seem self-serving and selfish on their part, but generally, they are trying to be helpful.

3 – They’re in a hurry

Oftentimes, a person interrupts because they’re trying to get you to speed up. They feel the pressure of all they have to do and want you to finish your thoughts so they can move on.  Perhaps they’re doing too many things and listening just takes too much time in their mind.  This can be very hurtful to the speaker. These people are clueless about how rude and selfish they are being to you. They can cause irreparable damage to their relationships because of the way they act towards others.

4 – They’re upset

When you’re in a group discussion and it’s hard to get a word in, it can be frustrating. When someone is feeling frustrated because they feel like they aren’t being heard, they interrupt. It’s normal, and perhaps you’ve done this before.  In a group setting, this can be perceived as rude, but oftentimes the facilitator of the discussion is to blame for not giving everyone an opportunity to speak. A good facilitator can avoid situations where people feel left out.

If you’re overseeing a discussion and feel like you’ve encouraged everyone’s participation, but a person is still upset, there could be an underlying issue going on for the person. It may have nothing to do with the topic of the could be a problem with another co-worker or they feel pressured at work.

If this happens, it may be best to pull the person aside after the meeting and find out what’s going on with them. Asking questions in a concerned way to show them you’re not mad at them. Remind them how valuable their contributions are, but when they interrupt, their ideas get lost in the poor presentation.

What to do when some constantly interrupts you?

There are different strategies you can use when someone constantly interrupts you. The goal is to be firm, but kind. Getting angry won’t stop the person from interrupting or help your relationship with the person.

1 – Ignore the interruption

When someone interrupts you sometimes it’s best to ignore the interruption and keep talking. Everyone communicates differently, and sometimes people get excited about what they’re hearing and interrupt because of their excitement. It’s not worth it to address an interruption every time it happens.

2 – Set communication rules

If you’re leading a meeting, it’s important to set some general communications rules at the onset of the conversation. At the beginning of the meeting, say something like,

“ Just as a reminder, please hold your thoughts and questions until each speaker has finished sharing their thoughts.”

Some leaders use a silent hand-in-the-air signal to stop people who start to interrupt. This reminds the interrupter to stop talking without drawing attention to them in the middle of the meeting.

If someone interrupts and doesn’t see the signal, you may need to stop the speaker and give a general reminder again, but look at the person who interrupted.

3 – Ask questions

Stop the speaker and ask questions. This allows the interrupter to say what they wanted to say. Sometimes, they have good thoughts or concerns, but they lack the self-control to wait. So, asking a question provides them an outlet. Say something like,

“So, are there any thoughts or questions so far about what __________has shared with us?”

This allows the interrupter to share their thoughts and can help them give up interrupting when the speaker continues.

4 – Confront the interrupter

If you’ve tried various strategies to stop an interrupter without success, the best policy may be to address them. If while you or someone else is speaking, the interrupter blurbs out their thoughts, say something like,

“I want to hear what you have to say,_________, but could you let me finish my thoughts first?”

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5 – Gender views of interrupting

Interestingly enough, there is a gender view of interrupting. In a study, 5,000 adults listened to an audio clip of a man and woman in a conversation. During the clip, they both interrupt one another. Those who listened to the audio clip were asked which speaker was rude and which one was just excited.

The majority of men who watched the audio clip said the woman was rude and unfriendly compared to how they viewed the man who also interrupted. When they asked women which person was being rude, they didn’t pick on gender more than another. In general, women who interrupt during a conversation are seen as lacking intelligence or dumb.

For women, it’s hard to break through this double standard. Although it’s unfair, being aware of an existing gender perception helps you adjust how to portray your passion in conversations. For instance, one notable way the women in the Obama White House shared their passion at work was to frame it as a concern for others.  This worked because, in society, women are viewed as caregivers.

For men, knowing this bias exists should help you adjust your thinking about women in the middle of conversions.

Which type of conversationalist are you?

There are two kinds of conversationalists in the world;  those who talk at the same time as another person as a way to engage and those who insist that only one person at a time should talk.

The first group of people dislikes pauses. They feel like they should fill in any empty spaces. This is how they engage during a conversation. To them interrupting isn’t rude, it’s a free flow of ideas shared all at once. The other group of people thinks this kind of layered talking is rude. They feel that only one person should talk at a time to get their ideas across. They find these interruptions as being rude.

Although it’s good to at least understand both types of conversationalists, society tends to lean towards the second group who thinks one person at a time should talk.

What if you’re the one who interrupts people?

Perhaps you find yourself interrupting people. If you lean towards engaging people in a layered style of conversation, you may not have realized you were considered rude until someone pointed it out to you. So, how can you stop interrupting people? Here are a few strategies that may work for you.

1 – Try not to think about what to say

You’ll get yourself in trouble if you half-listen, half figure out how you want to answer. You may be tempted to jump in with your thought before the person finishes. When you do this, it’s easy to miss out on what the person was saying. Stay engaged. Don’t form an answer in your brain. Simply listen.

2 – Count to twenty

If you constantly interrupt people, you need to slow down your response time. Take a moment, count to twenty, then if the other person is really finished, you can respond. It can be extremely hard at first with so many thoughts swirling in your head, but that’s okay. Keep at it. Slowing down your response will make you less apt to interrupt people.

3 – Don’t try to solve the person’s problems

Oftentimes, people aren’t looking for a solution, they just want someone to listen to them. It’s not your job to fix people, but to be a listening ear and support to them. If they ask you for input, of course, share your thoughts. Allowing others to share while you listen will deepen your friendship simply because they feel like you care enough to listen to them.

Final Thoughts on Dealing With Someone Who Interrupts Your Conversation

Being interrupted in the middle of a conversation can be frustrating. Everyone interrupts once in a while, but there are some people who are continuous interrupters. Of course, it’s good to understand why people do what they do since it can help you respond to them. The goal is to be kind, but firm.

Sometimes overlooking the interruptions helps, but often it will require a firm reminder. It turns out there are two types of conversationalists-those who expect only one person at a time to talk and those who enjoy engaging others while they talk. If you realize that you are perceived as an interrupter, you may want to learn how to stop interrupting.

Try to follow the tips suggested to help deal with it kindly when someone interrupts. In the end, the goal is to be a good listener and make the people feel like you’re interested in what they have to say.