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  1. Blog
  2. Culture & Professionalism

'I'm Still Speaking'—and 11 Other Ways to Stop Interruptions

I welcome your opinion! Eventually

Woman pretending not to be annoyed
Photo courtesy of Polina Zimmerman

In early October, the vice presidential debate between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris showcased a gratingly familiar interpersonal dynamic—one individual interrupting another to dominate the discussion. It’s likely no surprise that women frequently experience this annoying issue. A Georgetown University study found that men interrupt 33 percent more when speaking with women.

People interrupt others for a lot of reasons, including impatience, cultural differences, and just plain old aggressiveness. Don’t take it personally, and don’t feel powerless. There are a lot of ways to help train a team member to play well with others.

Read more: What to Say to a Mansplainer in the Office

1. Plan ahead

Try to intercept interruptions ahead of time by setting the ground rules for discussion at the start of the meeting. One strategy is to ask people to write their thoughts on a whiteboard “parking lot” so nothing gets forgotten. This can help the whole team pay closer attention to each speaker. Given that so companies are virtual now, team members can post thoughts to the meeting’s chat feature.

It’s actually more effective when someone besides the speaker calls an interrupter to task. So, if your group has a genuinely aggressive, chronic interrupter, others on the team should take turns asking the interrupter to wait to speak. It’s a peer pressure hero move that will quickly create a team culture of mutual respect.

2. Adjust your body language

We tend to forget about it in meetings, but body language is an especially powerful part of human communication. Strategically use it to your advantage. Here are some tactics to use—listed in order of the courage required to pull it off. Mix and match these with the scripts below to tailor the impact:

More subtle tactics 

  • Make direct eye contact with the over-talker and keep going.

  • Hold up one finger to indicate “wait please” and keep talking.

  • Look at your interrupter with deeply scrunched eyebrows and then widen your eyes to indicate incredulousness.

  • Hand the interrupter a pen (to write down his thoughts).

  • Uncross your legs and lean forward.

  • Widen your elbows to take up more space at the table, and lean forward. This is an authority move.

  • Keeping your hand low, wag one finger from side to side.

More overt tactics

  • Stand up and walk around the room some. Continue talking using the same tone of voice

  • Stand up, place both hands on the table and lean forward slightly. Continue speaking.

  • Talk a little louder and keep going. This is effectively a “verbal chicken” game. If you stick to your guns, the other person will back down.

  • Get up, walk to the interrupter as you continue speaking, and place your hand on their chair. Then walk back to your chair as you finish speaking.

  • Throw a coffee cup. (Just kidding. Don’t do that. Seriously.

Read more: How Successful People Deal With Difficult People

3. Practice what you’re going to say

Standing up for yourself takes practice. Pick out some phrases and keep them ready in the back of your mind. That way, you don’t get stymied the next time your teammate derails a discussion.

More subtle phrasing 

  • Whoa, we have a lot of energy in the room this morning. That’s great! Let me finish my briefing and we can open it up to group discussion.

  • Someone had a lot of coffee this morning! Slow your thoughts and stay with me a moment longer as I finish this.

  • I like that you’re almost finishing my sentences, but let me finish this.

  • Hang on, I’m almost finished and you can be next to speak.

  • It’s great you want to build on this thought, but let me finish first and then we can collaborate.

  • I like the way you’re thinking—we can dig into that in a moment.

More overt phrasing

  • Let’s circle back to that, okay? I’ll ask you at the end of my comments.

  • Can I finish? (This can be done with or without pausing for a response.)

  • I do want to hear that viewpoint, but let me finish this explanation first.

  • That’s going to be an important contribution—so let me finish and then give you the floor to speak.

  • The way you are interrupting is puzzling me. You will also have the opportunity to speak. 

Above all, be calm and gracious. Why? Consistently acting with dignity and integrity wins you the respect of everyone in the room.

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