Hey, Let Me Finish! How to Handle an Interrupting Colleague
By Nicole M. Frank
Perhaps one of the most irritating behaviors in the workplace is that of the chronic interrupter, that one person in so many meetings who refuses to listen and wait patiently for their turn to offer feedback on ideas. What’s to be done? Plenty, it turns out. Here, some tips:
- Focus on how you can prepare for and handle the interrupter’s behavior, rather than the idea that they should stop interrupting you. Accept that you cannot control their behavior.
- If the relationship you have with this colleague is a stable one, consider having a meta conversation, talking about how the two of you talk to one another. Or, in a group setting, have a discussion about members’ perceptions of the group’s communication effectiveness and style.
- Nothing. Sometimes, it’s best to let interruptions go. This is particularly applicable when someone interrupts you on an infrequent basis, or interjects due to excitement about what you are saying, or to offer an important correction or update to information you have shared.
- State your expectations from the beginning. If you are presenting ideas to a group, preface those ideas with a quick, “Let me go through all of these, and then we’ll open the floor for feedback and input.”
- Keep talking. Continue sharing your thoughts, perhaps addressing the interrupter with a quick, “I’d like to finish” or a slightly more forceful “Hold on,” and then continuing your thoughts. Some experts recommend using the body language a hand up, palm toward the interrupter, in a “stop” gesture when addressing him or her with “I’d like to finish” or “Hold on.”
- Talk to the interrupter in private. Describe the behavior you have seen and how it impacts you, as objectively as possible.
- Be an ally. Many articles recommend that professional women seek some kind of Holy Grail of perfectly polite assertiveness, an unrealistic expectation that is particularly relevant when a woman finds herself interrupted. Meanwhile, individuals from collectivist cultures often find themselves steamrolled by colleagues with individualistic backgrounds. If you see someone unfairly interrupted, keep your attention on the initial speaker. You can also interject, “Let’s let him/her finish, shall we?”
- If all else fails, and the interrupter succeeds in gaining the group’s attention? Wait until they finish, comment on the thoughts they shared, and then guide the group back to the main points of the discussion. Maintain your composure; you want to make it clear that a lack of decorum is hardly going to unsettle you.
- If the interrupter refuses to respond to reasonable intervention, consider suspending the conversation. Obviously, this is less likely to work in group settings or temporal circumstances, but if the situation allows for it, explain that you feel the conversation has ceased being productive and suggest a different time to meet.
- Consider how long you have been talking. One commenter suggested a two-minute guideline, speculating that if you have been talking more than two minutes at a time, your colleagues are likely frustrated and ready to share what they think, already. While there is no hard-and-fast rule for how long one person should talk, reflecting on your own possible hogging-the-floor is always wise, too.
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Booggard, K. (n.d.). 5 Polite ways to deal with people who not-so-politely keep interrupting you. The Muse. Retrieved from https://www.themuse.com/advice/5-polite-ways-to-deal-with-people-who-notsopolitely-keep-interrupting-you
Gino, F. (2017, February 22). How to handle interrupting colleagues. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2017/02/how-to-handle-interrupting-colleagues
Humphrey, J. (2016, March 10). 5 strategies to stop coworkers from interrupting you all the time. Fast Company. Retrieved from https://www.fastcompany.com/3057626/5-strategies-to-stop-coworkers-from-interrupting-you-all-the-time
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