“I’ve been giving it some thought,” I said in a team meeting at one of my previous full-time jobs, “And I really think the partner listings on our website would function better if we…”
“Let me jump in,” interjected one of my co-workers, before I was even able to finish my thought and put my idea out on the table. She proceeded to charge forward with her suggestion, as I sat stunned and slack-jawed at the other end of the conference room table.
Sound familiar to you? We’ve all dealt with those people who continuously chime in with their two cents, with very little (ahem, zero) regard for the fact that you were literally just in the middle of a sentence. It’s rude, frustrating, and ultimately pretty counterproductive.
So, you find yourself left with a bit of a quandary—what’s the best way to react when you’re suddenly interrupted? You can’t just jump right back in and cut off that person, or you’d find yourself in this vicious circle of constant conversational disruptions. But, at the same time, you don’t want to let this person continue to get away with steamrolling you.
Effectively dealing when someone keeps interrupting you can be a bit of a slippery slope. And, as with most things, the best way to handle it can vary based on the individual situation. But, these five tips should at least help you cope with that chronic interrupter. And, no, they don’t involve screaming in frustration—although, that’s a surefire way to get someone to stop talking.
1. Let it Go
Sometimes, the best thing you can do when faced with an interruption is nothing at all. As crazy (and infuriating) as it sounds, your best course of action might be to just take a deep breath and let it go—particularly if it happens just once or very infrequently.
We all communicate differently. And, there are those people out there who jump in simply because they’re incredibly engaged in and excited about what you’re saying and want to show that they’re actively involved in the conversation. Or, perhaps their interruption is something that actually should come up right then and there—such as a correction to a fact you keep stating or an idea that’s really solid and beneficial.
Yes, interruptions can be frustrating. But, the point here is that not all of them are worthy of addressing (or worse, you flying off the handle).
2. Set Expectations Immediately
Whether you’re speaking up in a team meeting or you’re conducting a presentation, it’s important to you that you’re able to get all of your thoughts and ideas out there before opening the floor to questions and contributions. Nobody can blame you there! However, it’s up to you to make this clear to everybody—particularly if that co-worker who’s famous for constantly interjecting is sitting in.
How can you start things off on the right foot? Kick off your spiel with something simple and straightforward like, “Some of these ideas are a little half-baked, and I’m definitely looking forward to your thoughts on these! But, I think our discussion will be much more productive if I can get my thoughts out there first, and then we can open things up for questions and suggestions.”
This sets the tone right from the get-go that you’re aiming to share your ideas free of interruptions. It’s not that you’re closed off to any improvements—you just want to make sure you’re able to speak your mind without constantly being derailed.
This also makes it easy to halt an interrupter in his tracks. When he starts to speak up with his unwelcomed disruptions, you can simply remind him of the request you made in the beginning.
3. Just Keep Going
Unfortunately, there are those people out there who will completely disregard your wishes and continue to chime in and cut you off. You could blow a foghorn every single time they opted to interrupt you and it wouldn’t make a difference—they’d just keep going on and on.
So, why not use that same tactic? Refuse to pause for interruptions, and instead continue moving forward with your intended spiel. If needed, you can even pause for a second to address the interrupter and say, “one moment,” and then finish off your thought.
Yes, it might seem a tad bit juvenile—and likely a little more forceful than you’d naturally like to be. But, sometimes you can only fight fire with fire. And, at least you’re guaranteed to get your whole idea out there without constant interference.
4. Ask Questions
As I mentioned previously, interruptions aren’t all bad. In fact, some of them can actually be pretty valuable contributions to the conversation.
So, when one of your co-workers jumps in with her two cents, asking probing questions can be a great way to address the issue without direct confrontation or aggression—and even allow you to get some beneficial ideas and added value out of the exchange.
Ask her to expand on her ideas or explain why she disagrees with a certain point you’re making. You’ll get to broaden your viewpoint—and, who knows, you might pick up on something worthwhile. But, the best part? Humoring that notorious interrupter—even for just a moment—will likely quiet her down for the time-being so that you can continue on with the rest of your proposal. You can hope, at least.
5. Address it Head-on
There are those points when you realize that no amount of strategy or clever communication tactics are going to shut this person up. Instead, you just need to grab the bull by the horns and let him know he needs to wait his turn.
Unfortunately, this isn’t something you can sugarcoat. You’ll need to be firm and direct to get your point across. But, just because you need to be blunt doesn’t mean you can’t be polite.
So, the next time that pesky interrupter jumps right in when you’re in the middle of the sentence, try retorting with, “John, I value your suggestions. But, could you let me finish my thoughts and then we’ll have an open conversation about them? Thank you.”
It’s straightforward—but a little less straightforward than something like, “John, shut up and let me talk!”
Dealing with someone who keeps cutting you off mid-sentence is never easy. But, you deserve the opportunity to get your thoughts and ideas out there without constantly being disrupted and derailed. Use these five tips the next time someone jumps in at an inopportune time, and you’re sure to make it through your entire spiel—without sounding like a broken record.
Photo of co-workers courtesy of John Wildgoose/Getty Images.