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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

How to Stop Anyone From Constantly Interrupting You—Including Your Boss

work meeting

I recently received a question from someone who wanted to know how to handle a new boss who chronically interrupts. This is a serious problem in a lot of relationships, but it has many causes. Previously, I described the different reasons why people interrupt, and now I’d like to discuss what to say to people who keep interrupting you.

Related: Who Interrupts More? The Truth About Manterruptions

Dealing With Interruptions Gently

Just what do you do when a person constantly interrupts? Is it rude to tell him or her that he or she is interrupting? Does the power position of the interrupter make any difference? What exactly do you say to maintain the relationship?

I certainly understand why I received this question; it’s frustrating to always be the one who has to be quiet and let another person talk.

Interrupting is a bad habit that needs correction, but depending on the reason, or the degree of relationship, it needs to be handled differently. As I talked about previously, some people interrupt because they’re direct, some because they’re creative, and some because they actually want to affirm you and be supportive. Some have just developed a bad habit, or feel they must assert themselves. And then there are the bullies.

Allow me to discuss a few different ways to stop someone who interrupts:

One way to address the behavior, a bit indirectly, is to simply let the person interrupt, then repeat again exactly what you started saying, in a polite, respectful tone. (Read: no sarcasm or anger!)

So, for example, what you don’t want to say is the following:

You: Sorry, did the middle of my sentence interrupt the beginning of yours? (I heard this once at a meeting!)

You: I want to give you all the results first. I’d appreciate it if you’d give me a chance and not interrupt like you always do.

Instead, you could try something much more polite and gentle:

You: The results of our analysis showed that 3%...

Her: I talked with Joe Robinson this morning about the analysis...

You: I’m interested in hearing what Joe had to say, but I’d like to share the results first. The results of our analysis showed...

This approach helps the interrupter who doesn’t realize he or she is interrupting. However, if you are dealing with a chronic interrupter, and if you’ve got something really important to share, you could preempt the interruption by requesting she hold her thoughts and reactions until you’re done.

You: I’d like to get your reaction and feedback on the analysis, but I’d like to give you all of the results first. Does that work for you?

Related: Why Do People Interrupt?

When Gentle Doesn’t Work

Another approach is to get an assist from a trusted peer. You both agree that, in group conversations, if either of you gets interrupted by the boss, the other person will interrupt the boss and say, “I’m sorry Joe (boss’s name). Sue (colleague’s name), were you finished? It sounded like you had more to say.”

An even stronger approach to stop interruptions is to use the universal “Please stop speaking” words and symbol. I call it the “All right then.” Here’s how it works: You respond to the interruption with “All right...” or “Thanks,” and then start your sentence over again. Here’s how it would sound:

You: The results of our analysis showed that 3%...

Her: I talked with Joe Robinson this morning about the analysis...

You: All right, thanks. The results of our analysis showed...

An even bolder approach is to add in a hand gesture at the same time. The idea is to every so slightly raise your fingers with your palm facing slightly above parallel to the ground. Keep in mind that the higher you raise your palm (and the closer it is to the other person’s face), the more aggressive the gesture becomes. You can imagine the worst case of this gesture looking like the “Stop” or ever worse, the “Talk to the hand,” gesture with averted eyes.

Again, the technique is to say the words, and then ever so slightly raise your hand, and then carry on with what you were saying. Another option I’ve heard experts suggest is to very lightly touch the interrupter on the forearm and then say (in the absolute most polite tone possible) “Please” or “May I finish?” These stronger approaches definitely will stop the interruption, but usually I prefer to reserve these approaches for when I am in the power position—for example, when my children rudely interrupt me or another adult. I wouldn’t suggest using them in the office, particularly with a new boss.

Related: How to Deal With Workplace Bullying

If the interrupter is a boss and the previous suggestions aren’t improving the situation, the best approach may be to have a trusted advisor have a direct conversation about this communication behavior with your boss. Talk with a mutually trusted third party, perhaps a peer of hers, or a peer of yours who has already earned her trust and respect. Whoever speaks to her needs to know the fine art of handling difficult conversations.

In my book Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, I dedicate an entire chapter to this topic, outlining and explaining in detail a nine-step process. In brief, this type of conversation requires that you state your observations simply, specifically, and clearly, and then work with the person to mutually create alternative behaviors that meet your shared goals.

That is, you would give concrete examples of times she has interrupted, explain how that negatively impacted the people involved, and discuss possible alternative ways for her to provide her comments. If there are examples from customer interactions, these can be particularly powerful, since they have the most direct negative impact on the business and shift the focus away from the employee who raised the issue.

Ultimately, only you can decide on the best approach to handle this situation. Sometimes just understanding why someone interrupts is enough to give a bit more room and leeway for the interruptions. However, in the end, a direct conversation that is aimed at helping the person to be a better communicator would be the likely result and the best outcome for all involved, though it does take the most effort, preparation, and skilled delivery.

This article was originally published on Quick and Dirty Tips. It has been republished here with permission.