Perhaps there have been too many times when you felt you were not being heard, or didn't get the chance to have your say, sufficiently, because you were interrupted. We have all been interrupted at some time, but if it happens a lot, there could be a specific reason for it, or there could be something you are not doing quite right to get yourself heard with respect.
However, it is important to note that not everyone who interrupts others is doing it intentionally or maliciously. Some people may interrupt you without realising it, due to cultural differences or personal habits. For example, in some cultures, interrupting is seen as a sign of interest or engagement in the conversation. For example, I spent my early years in Jamaica where it was customary to finish someone's sentence for them to show alignment with the speaker and agreement with their thoughts. But my boyfriend has not been so welcoming of it as he feels I'm interrupting his flow which often disconcerts him. Hence I have had to jettison that cultural habit and relearn another!
Research has also shown that some types of people tend to interrupt far more than others. For example:
Gender: Men are more likely to interrupt women than vice versa, especially in professional settings where men have the power.
Age: Younger people are more likely to interrupt the older ones, than the other way round.
Social status: Those with higher social status are more likely to interrupt those with perceived lower social status.
Context: People are more likely to interrupt in fast-paced or competitive environments, such as meetings or debates, in order to get attention and make an impression.
In general, the people who are most likely to interrupt you tend to be the following personality types:
- Those who are impulsive or impatient. They may have difficulty waiting their turn to speak and feel the need to share their thoughts or ideas immediately. This type would include people who are frustrated (or bored) by a speaker who might have been going on and on, not giving them any opportunity to make an input.
- People who have a high need for control. They may interrupt others in order to maintain control of the conversation, or to ensure that their own point of view is heard. This type interrupts for reasons of power in showing who is more knowledgeable, often in a patronising way; a form of belittling the input of others, especially that of women.
- Those who are narcissistic or self-centred and have difficulty listening to others. They are likely to interrupt other speakers in order to talk about themselves or just to get attention. They do not really value other people's input, nor do they care about what anyone else is saying. They are only interested in their own voices.
- Those who are excited or enthusiastic. When they are keen to say something, especially when it is triggered by what they hear, such people may interrupt others because they are excited about what they have to say and cannot wait to share it. They obviously wish to add to the conversation at the same time in order to make their thoughts relevant, and do not want to forget what they wish to say.
- People who are stressed or anxious. They may interrupt to relieve their own anxiety or to assert themselves.
Each of those reasons will have a different response, so one type of reaction will not always be appropriate. Most of us listen to others with the chief aim of REPLYING, not really taking in what is being said, so there will be a greater effort in trying to make an input than in really processing what the other person is saying, especially in instances where conversational skills are clearly lacking.
Dealing with each situation individually, with Item 4 and 5, stopping to let them continue now and then would be appropriate because it could add value to what you are saying and reduce any tension. However, if it happens more than a couple of occasions, you could add gently that you recognise that they also have something to input that you would love to hear, but they need to allow you to finish your point first, so they can have their turn.
With Item 1, the fault could lie with the speaker. This is where they might need to examine their speaking style. Do they tend to go on and on without allowing others to input the conversation? Sometimes, especially when we are not interested in what others are saying, we can talk at length without stopping, especially if it is a subject we are passionate about. A good speaker will always keep their input brief to allow others to be included, then come back in at other times to avoid boring others with monologues that are too long. Remember that the average attention span is only 90 seconds at a time! It might be more if the person likes what you're saying, or is passionate about the subject, too. Otherwise you would have lost them early along the way if they are not encouraged into the conversation.
With Items 2 and 3, asking them politely to wait while you are finished would be the best way to deal with this, to prevent them from interrupting all the time, or taking over the conversation altogether. Otherwise they will just keep interrupting to please themselves.
Those four reasons emphasise why, on such occasions, it is important to bear the context in mind, the reasons for interrupting, as well as the number of times the person wishes to interrupt, before you decide your reaction. After all, some people are merely interested in an audience, not a genuine conversation, so they will always keep interrupting to get your attention.
On the other hand, if you find yourself interrupting others frequently, it is important to be aware of this behaviour, the reason why you feel the need to do it, and take steps to correct it. Here are a few tips to help:
- Listen attentively to what the other person is saying.
- Wait until the speaker has finished before sharing your own thoughts and ideas. f you think you might frget what you wish to say, jot them down while you're waiting.
- If you do need to interrupt, apologise and explain why.
- Be respectful of the other person's time and attention, especially if you value being respected, too.
Remember that everyone deserves to be heard and respected. By being mindful of our own inappropriate behaviour, we can all help to create more positive and productive conversations.
About the Creator
British Empowerment Coach/Public speaker/DEI Consultant. Author: The New Theory of Confidence and 7 Steps To Finding And Keeping 'The One'!. Graduate/Doctor of Open Univ; Postgrad Cambridge Univ. Keen on motivation, relationships and books.