Do you have a friend, colleague, client or boss who constantly interrupts you when you are in the middle of a thought? Does that person “run away” with the topic you began or, even worse, take it in another direction than you intended? Does this convince you that it isn’t worth communicating when that person is involved? The problem is that the relationship will suffer if you take this tact. You will withdraw from him or her and pretty much “disconnect” and feel resentment, even anger.
You can go negative, but don’t. Instead shift your attitude and ask yourself if the person’s behavior is intentional. Always look at any relationship with intention. Yes, sometimes people are frustratingly irritating while simultaneously being totally unaware. When there is no intention on their part, you should have more patience with them. So, rather than turning negative and being offended, look at why some people are chronic “interrupters.”
Here’s a list of why people interrupt formulated by Marion Grobb Finkelstein, the Communication Catalyst*.
It May Be How They Process
Some people interrupt because it’s how they process and interpret information. In their enthusiasm to show you they’re on the same wavelength as you, 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.
It May Come From a Place of Service
If you are the type of communicator who 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. What can you do about that? Speak faster. Invite comments before you complete your thought, or ask the interrupter to give you a sec to finish what you were saying.
Finally, if the person who constantly interrupts you is unaware, take the time to sit down with him or her and diplomatically make him/her aware of the problem. Ask if the two of you can work on it together. That’s way better than just letting the behavior get you down!
As Finkelstein says, “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.”
*Communications expert, author, professional speaker Marion Grobb Finkelstein teaches individuals and organizations across Canada and beyond, how to improve their businesses and their lives by improving their communications. Chat with her Facebook, or click here to sign up for her free weekly e-newsletter “Marion’s Communication Tips.”
— John Daly is the founder and president of The Key Class, the go-to guide for job search success. Click here to learn more about The Key Class or get information on Thursday night classes in Santa Barbara. Connect with The Key Class on Facebook. Follow John Daly on Twitter: @johndalyjr. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.