‘Will you shut up, man?’

How to deal with chronic in­ter­rupters

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - JOBS & WORK - — Marco Buscaglia, Ca­reers

Whether you’re mak­ing a pitch in per­son, brain­storm­ing on a Zoom call, or stand­ing be­hind a podium at­tempt­ing to ex­plain your eco­nomic poli­cies, it can be in­cred­i­bly frus­trat­ing if you’re con­tin­u­ally in­ter­rupted by oth­ers while try­ing to make a point — for both you and any­one who is watch­ing or par­tic­i­pat­ing in the con­ver­sa­tion.

While it may be part of the nat­u­ral rap­port among your friends to ver­bally cut each other off, the more for­mal the set­ting, the more jar­ring the in­ter­rup­tion. “Con­text is be­ing aware of the sit­u­a­tion. Are you hang­ing out with friends or at work? Or, at a town meet­ing de­bat­ing an im­por­tant project,” says Valerie Di Maria, prin­ci­pal at the10­com­pany, a PR and com­mu­ni­ca­tions agency in New York. “Un­der­stand­ing the peo­ple in­volved is also crit­i­cal. Are they well-mean­ing but so en­thu­si­as­tic they can’t help them­selves? Or are they so ego­cen­tric they force their ideas on ev­ery­one?”

We asked a col­lec­tion of com­mu­ni­ca­tion ex­perts to weigh in on the best ways to deal with peo­ple who con­stantly in­ter­rupt you. You might be sur­prised at the range of — and of­ten con­flict­ing na­ture — of their an­swers. Read what they have to say and find a strat­egy that works best for you:

“In­crease your ca­dence and stick to your main ar­gu­ments, keep­ing your state­ments as punchy and quotable as pos­si­ble. Speak in the style of sound­bites while avoid­ing long-winded ex­pla­na­tions and en­sure that you are pro­ject­ing your voice. Think 15-sec­ond TV rapid-fire re­sponse, as op­posed to a lengthy aca­demic lec­ture. Re­sist your nat­u­ral de­sire to an­swer or ad­dress what the per­son is in­ter­ject­ing; this takes you away from your key points and onto less im­por­tant tan­gents. Em­ploy body lan­guage to show them you in­tend to have your say, such as hold­ing up your hand or a sin­gle in­dex fin­ger to sig­nal you’re not fin­ished. Per­haps most im­por­tantly, main­tain com­po­sure and don’t lose your tem­per.”

-Evan Nier­man, founder and CEO, Red Banyan, Mi­ami, Florida

“De­cide on a method to in­ter­ject your­self. Meth­ods can vary from sub­tle to ag­gres­sive. A sub­tle ap­proach is to wait for an open­ing; when they take a breath or pause, just start talk­ing. More as­sertive re­sponses are ‘I have a few thoughts on that when you are ready.’ Or ‘I would like to dis­cuss this with you, but it seems like you are not lis­ten­ing to what I have to say.’

Think­ing ahead of the sit­u­a­tions and map­ping out a strat­egy of how you will re­act and when will help enor­mously in deal­ing with peo­ple who in­ter­rupt you.”

-Dr. Scott Guerin, ad­junct pro­fes­sor in psy­chol­ogy, Kean Univer­sity, Union, New Jersey

“Be com­pletely silent. Cre­ate an un­com­fort­able si­lence. That should help the in­ter­rupter re­al­ize it’s not ap­pro­pri­ate. Don’t say a word and have the un­com­fort­able si­lence speak. If in­ter­rup­tions con­tinue, I as a mod­er­a­tor or or­ga­nizer would phys­i­cally stand be­tween the in­ter­rupter and who they are in­ter­rupt­ing in com­plete si­lence. Just stand­ing in si­lence can in­ter­rupt the chaos. If in­ter­rupt­ing con­tin­ues, it’s a sign of a com­plete break-down of trust and courtesy, and the per­son should be dis­missed from the ses­sion since at that point it just in­ter­feres with ev­ery­one else’s ex­pe­ri­ence.”

-Carol Mart­solf, chief learning of­fi­cer, Ur­ban En­gi­neers, Philadel­phia

“In many cases, it’s not worth try­ing to speak over or squeeze in a word while the other per­son takes a breath for air. Rather, when in­ter­rupted, it’s com­pletely fine to ask, ‘do you mind let­ting me fin­ish?’ or ‘I’d love to fin­ish this thought be­fore you chime in.’ Hope­fully, the in­ter­rupter will catch on with­out go­ing on the de­fen­sive. But, if or when that hap­pens, it’s OK to be a bit more blunt: ‘I let you speak and I’d ap­pre­ci­ate it if you’d let me have a turn now.’ Many times, peo­ple who are in­ter­rupt­ing are hav­ing a one-way con­ver­sa­tion … which means if you’re try­ing to get ap­proval or make de­ci­sions, it could be hard to achieve. This is when it’s a good idea to fol­low up with a ‘per our con­ver­sa­tion’ type of an email and bul­let out the points you at­tempted to make so there is ac­count­abil­ity and clar­ity which may have got­ten lost dur­ing the spo­ken con­ver­sa­tion.”

-Cather­ine Mer­ritt, CEO, Spool Mar­ket­ing and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Chicago

“Ac­knowl­edge the per­son, rec­og­nize their con­tri­bu­tion, give them a brief com­ment or re­sponse and be firm about talk­ing with them af­ter the meet­ing to en­able a per­son­al­ized, one-onone dis­cus­sion. No mat­ter what, stay calm and don’t show frus­tra­tion. De­liver your key mes­sages up­front so if you do get de­railed, you’ve made your im­pact right away.”

-Valerie Di Maria, prin­ci­pal, the 10 com­pany, New York

“Ask ques­tions. When you are able to get a word in, use your time wisely to ask mean­ing­ful, di­rect ques­tions. You can try some of the fol­low­ing: Why do you deem it nec­es­sary to in­ter­rupt me when I’m speak­ing? What point are you try­ing to con­vey that you be­lieve I’m not un­der­stand­ing? Are you will­ing to un­der­stand my per­spec­tive by ac­tively lis­ten­ing?

Ques­tions like this will cre­ate aware­ness around the be­hav­ior you are try­ing to stop.”

-Monte Wil­liams, Founder/CEO, ALEU

“If you feel you can’t get a word in edge­wise, say so. ‘I’d like to fin­ish my train of thought. Do you mind wait­ing be­fore you get started on your thoughts?’”

-Deb­ora Lima, di­rec­tor, The Tag Ex­pe­ri­ence, Mi­ami, Florida

“In­ter­rup­tions are in­evitable. We have di­verse per­son­al­i­ties around us, dead­lines, and com­pet­ing pri­or­i­ties. The best ap­proach to deal with ag­gres­sive per­son­al­ity in­ter­rup­tions is to re­frame the com­mu­ni­ca­tion process. Sug­gest a com­mu­ni­ca­tion model that mod­er­ates com­mu­ni­ca­tion over­load. Dis­cuss pre­ferred chan­nel such as in­stant mes­sag­ing plat­forms, video chat, email, or phone call. Es­tab­lish an ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponse time­frame. The cul­ture needs to be open for a com­mu­ni­ca­tion plan to change an un­de­sired dy­namic.”

-An­gela Corbo, Ph.D., chair of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Stud­ies, Wi­dener Univer­sity, Ch­ester, Penn­syl­va­nia

Ev­ery of­fice has a chronic in­ter­rupter, but there are ways to get a word in.

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