Interrupted? How To Maintain Power & Grace When Talked Over
6 actionable tips to deal with interrupters
Hate getting interrupted?
Or seeing your colleagues get interrupted?
While interruptions can be benign, they can also claim power and influence who’s heard and who’s not.
In the Stanford MBA program, I’ve studied and role-played different ways to deal with interrupters. Here’s what you should know.
Exactly how to deal with interrupters
1. Check your status relative to that of the interrupter
If a peer interrupts you, it can lower your perceived status in the group, wrote Harrison Monarth in the Harvard Business Review.
That requires a well-crafted response.
But if your manager interrupts you, then let it be. It won’t count against you. Besides, your manager might be interrupting to help.
2. Use one of these responses
Imagine you’re talking and Jack jumps in while you’re mid-sentence.
What do you do?
🔄 Wait, then loop back. Wait until they finish talking. Then, claim the word and say: “I want to circle back to what I was saying,” as you return to your point.
☝️Raise a finger to signal stop or wait. Deborah Gruenfeld recommends this in her book Acting With Power. “Just moving the arms away from the body seems to indicate a willingness to fight back, and that finger seems to work like a weapon,” she writes.
🎤 Interrupt back. Try saying: “I can see you’re excited! Let me finish this thought.“ Or more curtly:“I’m almost done.”
😈 Hold the floor. Just keep talking. See how Hillary Clinton does that here, after she had permitted an interruption moments earlier.
After you’ve completed your point, return to the interrupter. Ask: “Jack, did you have something else you wanted to discuss?”
3. Offer direct feedback
If you see the same person interrupting repeatedly, consider offering direct feedback. Here’s exactly how to give feedback.
Feedback helps the other person learn, strengthens culture, and improves your relationship.
4. Adjust how you speak
I know, I know, shouldn’t the perpetrator adjust?
Often, yes. But their behavior isn’t in our control. Our behavior is.
🪦Are you burying the conclusion or leading with it? Instead of saying, “Because of so and so, we should do X”, say “We should do X because of of so and so.”
😎 Do you sound hesitant or are you speaking with confidence? Speak slower than usual, replace “uhms” with silence, keep your head still, and retain eye contact.
⏰ Are you going on and on or do you ask questions to involve the others? If we monologue for too long, others get lost and impatient.
🎯 Are listeners confused or do you tell listeners where you’re going? Say, for example, “I think this is a bad idea for three reasons. The first reason is… Now I’ll tell you the two other reasons. The second reason is… The last reason is….” This is called signposting.
These questions make us better communicators overall, so they’re worth practicing regardless of who’s at fault for the interruption.
5. Realize that the interruption was likely an accident
Interruptions are rarely intentional or ill-intentioned.
They happen because people aren’t paying enough attention, or get impatient, or get excited, or simply have different communication styles.
Your response depends on the broader context. How often does the person interrupt? What is the dynamic between you otherwise?
If it’s rare, you can respond gently. Simply wait and loop back.
If it’s frequent, and they don’t respond to feedback, it’s worth reclaiming the word or even holding the floor.
6. Support others as a bystander
You can be of tremendous help by helping others when they’re interrupted.
Science of People offers a few tactical lines:
“I’d love to hear the rest of what (insert name of person interrupted) was saying”
“Did you have more you wanted to say on this (insert name of person interrupted)?
“I don’t think you meant to interrupt, but I believe (insert name of person interrupted) hadn’t quite finished their thoughts.”
I love these lines because they redirect focus without blame or accusation.
Want to appear more confident when speaking? My previous post on body language might be helpful.
Want to structure your points better, so listeners don’t get lost? Here are five frameworks to help you sound smart.
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