3 Common Reasons Typically Polite People Interrupt Their Co-workers (and What to Do if You're Guilty)
You’re in a meeting and your colleague proposes a new marketing campaign she’d like to head up. Before she can finish, you jump in and share why it wouldn’t work. Your goal is to be helpful: You just tried something similar this last month and it didn’t work out well.
But it’s too late—you interrupted your co-worker. She looks displeased and your manager asks that all comments and questions be saved until the end of the meeting.
Does this sound familiar? If so, and if you can immediately think of a handful of times you’ve recently kicked yourself for opening your mouth too soon, you may be a serial interrupter.
You’re not alone. This happens all the time in the workplace and most people don’t even realize it!
Why does it matter?
Interrupting can make you look rude, unprofessional, and desperate for the spotlight.
So, let’s kick this nasty habit.
Be on the lookout for these three common causes so you can improve your behavior in the future—and use these word-for-word scripts to course-correct when you do interrupt.
1. Because It’s a Bad Habit
For some people, interrupting is a bad habit. It’s like biting your nails or cracking your knuckles: You’ve been trying to stop for years, but then you catch yourself doing it again. To make a change, start auditing yourself. Before you speak, stop and listen. Has the other person finished his thought?
Those few moments of pause can make all the difference. If you have trouble remembering to wait a beat, remind yourself that you want to work on this before every interaction. Put a Post-it on your laptop or include a note to yourself on the meeting invite.
Of course, change takes time. In the meantime try these scripts:
- “Sorry, Jane, I totally interrupted you. You were saying you just reached out to that new prospect?
- “Going back to what John was saying, he had an idea about a new marketing channel…”
- “Sorry, Tom, I didn’t mean to cut you off. You were talking about the investor you met?”
In these cases, a quick apology and a mention of where the other person left off will help get the conversation back on track.
2. Because You Had a Eureka Moment
Sometimes you get so excited about that brilliant idea, you interrupt someone who was mid-sentence. However, jumping in can be an issue for two reasons. You can steamroll the other person, or look like you’re stealing others’ ideas because you interrupted someone and ran with his premise.
If you’re bursting with inspiration, write down what you’re thinking. This way, you can be respectful and let the person finish, but also make sure you don’t lose your train of thought When it’s time for you to contribute, look down at your notes. (Bonus: You may even be more eloquent or consider additional angles because you won’t be speaking off the cuff.)
If you happened to interject with your “brilliant” idea, here are some scripts you can use:
- “Sorry, Cindy, I jumped the gun. Please go on, I’ll chime in when you complete your thought.”
- “I think Paul was on the same train of thought I’m on. Sorry, Paul, why don’t you finish and I’ll speak up if I’m thinking a bit differently.”
In these cases, you can mention that you have something to add, but let the other person finish first. It’s a gentle reminder that you have something to contribute, but shows that you have the manners to let the other person complete their thought.
3. Because You’re on a Phone Call
Do you have conference calls filled with awkward silences and people talking over each other? Not to worry, it’s fairly common on the phone because of the inability to read body language and occasional technical difficulties.
Most people understand that interrupting over phone or video is unintentional. The best way to defeat this is to pause for a few extra seconds before you speak, this will ensure that the other person is truly done. If you’re on a video call, try to look for cues that someone else is about to start speaking—like leaning forward and gesturing—so you don’t accidentally speak over him or her.
If you happened to interrupt someone on a phone call, here are a few scripts you can use:
- “I couldn’t quite hear, Janet, did you start to say something as well?”
- “Go ahead, Frank, finish that thought and I’ll share when you’re done.”
- “Just to quickly wrap up my thought, [finish your thought]. Amanda, did you have something to add to that?”
The last script is helpful for when you happen to talk at the same time as someone else, but want to complete your thought before giving the spotlight back. This is very useful on big conference calls, where it’s hard to get a word in edgewise.
Interrupting makes you look bad and it makes other feel like you don’t care what they have to say. So make it a point to start noticing if you’re an interrupter. In the meantime, use these word-for-word scripts to tactfully get the conversation back on track.
Photo of woman speaking courtesy of Peopleimages/Getty Images.
Katrina is a communication coach and founder of communicationfornerds.com, where she helps people become socially bulletproof and live their best lives. She’s also a Silicon Valley executive and former founder of marriage.com. If you found this article helpful, sign up for her free video course called How to Shut Up that Inner Voice & Beat Awkward Conversations.More from this Author