How to Deal With Chronic Interrupters

Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight

A discussion can take only so many interruptions before it ceases to be a discussion. For this reason, chronic interruptions are conversation-killers that disrupt a healthy exchange of information. Here's what to know and do when people interrupt you.

Address Interrupting Before You Start Talking

If your chronic interrupter is a coworker, it might be helpful to
address interruptions before they even occur. For instance, before
giving your presentation, you can preview what you plan to say and
stipulate when would be a good time to ask questions or break-in.

If people do interrupt while you are talking, you could remind them
that there will be a point for them to ask questions or make comments in
a few minutes.


Of course, you might be able to use this same tactic with a partner by
saying something like, "There are a lot of different parts to this
story; so bear with me. I want you to be able to grasp the entire
picture before you ask questions, OK?"

Discuss the Interruptions During a Neutral Time

Whether your chronic interrupter is someone on your staff or your
partner at home, it is a good idea to discuss the interruptions at a
time when you both are calm and objective. Talk to the person about what
you've experienced and explain how it affects you using "I" statements instead of pointing the finger or making accusations.

It's also important to give the interrupter the benefit of the doubt.
Some people simply do not realize that they interrupt as much as they
do. And, if you frame your thoughts objectively, it's more likely to
produce behavioral change.

Decide How to Handle Future Interruptions


Once you have had a discussion or two about the chronic interruptions,
you need to think about how you will respond when it happens
again—because it will. No one can change a pattern of behavior
instantaneously.

As a result, when you are interrupted in the future, you have several
options. For instance, you can ignore the interruption and keep talking;
you can stop talking altogether, or you can ask "May I finish?" and
then continue on. You can even walk away from the conversation if you
want.

The key is that you are prepared ahead of time on how you will handle interruptions, maintain focus, and not let them derail you. If you allow interrupters to hijack the
conversation, there is no motivation for them to stop what they are
doing. They are still getting what they want when they interrupt.

If people interrupt you during a presentation or speech, try reminding them that there will be a point for them to ask questions or make comments in a few minutes.

Consider Your Own Communication Style


Take a good, hard look at how you communicate. Do you share long,
drawn-out stories? Could you be succinct and to-the-point? Perhaps your communication style could be changed or improved to deter interruptions in some way, especially if you tend to monopolize the conversation.

Why People Interrupt Others

Everyone wants to feel heard — but if you don't feel you are, the relationship can begin to erode. After all, consistent interruptions by the same person not only feel like a lack of respect for you and your thoughts, but they also demonstrate apparent self-centeredness. Interruptions also can make you feel insignificant and unimportant—that what you are trying to say isn't worthy of being listened to.

Some tendencies to interrupt stem from cultural differences and family backgrounds. Interrupting just seems natural to them. Meanwhile, other interrupters are impatient, goal-driven people who like to get straight to the point. And their way of making that happen is to interrupt and usurp the control in the conversation.

Some people interrupt because they are so excited about what you are saying they cannot wait until you finish to contribute their thoughts and feelings.

Likewise, many chronic interrupters have no idea they are even doing it. To them, interrupting other people is what makes the conversation interesting and dynamic.

Interestingly, men interrupt women more than they interrupt men. For instance, a study from George Washington University found that men interrupted women 33% more often than they did other men. According to the researchers, during a three-minute conversation, men interrupted women 2.1 times. By contrast, when speaking with men for the same length of time, they only interrupted 1.8 times. Meanwhile, women on average only interrupted men once.

But regardless of gender or who is doing the interrupting, the reality is that at the moment when an interruption occurs, the interrupter is communicating that their question—or what they have to say—takes precedence over your thoughts and opinions.

Additionally, whether they are aware of it or not, chronic interrupters are asserting their power, their knowledge, and their ideas at your expense. And in extreme situations, interrupting can be anything but altruistic. In fact, interruption is often a tactic used by emotionally abusive people who use it as a way to assert dominance and control. For this reason, it's important to know how to handle interruptions with grace and dignity and still be able to get your point across.

Of course, you might be able to use this same tactic with a partner by saying something like, "There are a lot of different parts to this story; so bear with me. I want you to be able to grasp the entire picture before you ask questions, OK?"

Give the interrupter the benefit of the doubt. Some people simply do not realize that they interrupt as much as they do. And, if you frame your thoughts objectively, it's more likely to produce behavioral change.

A Word From Verywell

Be patient as you work through interruption issues. Changing behavior and communication styles takes time. But with persistence and patience, you might be able to have more balanced and effective conversations. After all, everyone in the conversation benefits when people feel heard.

Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon is a published author and a bullying prevention expert.