Excuse me!
And how to handle being talked over

How frustrating is it when you’re having a conversation with a client or colleague and they constantly interrupt you? And when it happens all the time. Really annoying, right? Well there are several effective ways you can use to help shut down these persistent interrupters, so you can create enough time to get your own voice heard.

I’m not going to lie – I’m a huge interrupter. I’m not sure why I do it, when I’m doing it, or appreciate just how annoying it could be to the person I’m interrupting. I do however, try my very best to recognise if I’m doing it too much, and bring it down to a manageable frequency. Well that’s what I think I do!

When there are non stop interruptions in a conversation it’s incredibly difficult to listen and learn anything. So how do you shut down a serial interrupter in either a nice or not-so-nice way? Here’s some guidance I’ve discovered. And you never know, I may just take this on board and learn to keep my mouth shut a little more.

Photo by Larry George II on Unsplash

Play nice methods

Discourage interruptions before they begin

When you’re about to launch into a deep and meaningful story, or a complex presentation or proposal, you can avoid people from interrupting by making it clear before you start;

  • that they will need to listen closely to understand
  • that it’s a complex story and it’s important that they hear every word you’re going to say
  • that once they’ve heard what you’ve got to say you’re more than happy to get their opinions afterwards
  • that you value their opinion so just hold fire until they hear everything you’ve got to say

Involve other people

If you’re being repeatedly interrupted by the same person, one way of reducing their input is by saying something like;

  • We’ve heard from [name] a few times. Does anyone else have something to add?

This politely puts the interrupter on the spot, and will hopefully make them realise they’ve been hogging the conversation, and maybe it’s time to let others talk. You’ll also encourage others in the group to speak up and provide their opinions. 

Does the interruption have value?

Many of us interrupt because we’re quick to work out and understand the information being conveyed, and we want the discussion to speed up to match this quick thinking. When we’re the ones being interrupted, try stopping and listening to the interrupter, asking them a few confirmation questions, then once heard, briskly and firmly lead the conversation back to your original point. By doing this you not only show a genuine and polite interest in what the interrupter has to say, you’ll gain additional insights, and you’ll hopefully reduce further interruptions as you’ve already acknowledged their input.

Play not-so-nice methods

Stand your ground

When someone interrupts you, just keep talking. By doing this, things can get quite load all of a sudden. But if you stick to the plan and don’t give up, eventually the interrupter will stop. Once they stop, make sure the next words that come out of your mouth are important, acknowledge them by saying ‘thank you’, and then reengage with other people in the group.

Interrupt the interrupter

This is the easiest ‘not-so-nice’ method to get back control. By interrupting the interrupter you’ll quickly get things back on track. Here are a couple of examples we’ve all used with success;

  • Let me finish
  • Hang on a sec…
  • Hold that thought…

No answer required

When the interrupter is mid-flow, ask them a question. It typically stops them in their tracks, they pause for the question – but no, you don’t ask a question – you simply engage back to the group and carry on from where you left off. If you think this is a little rude, then you can ask ‘half’ a question and then pretend to lose track and divert quickly back to what you were saying. Half question examples are;

  • Do you realise that…
  • So you’re thinking/talking about…
  • Right, right, how about, er…

Laugh at the interrupter

Simply by laughing at the interrupter, you’ll stop them immediately. And say something directly about their interruption, for example; ‘it’s funny how you constantly interrupt me’, or ‘it cracks me up that you’re not letting me speak’, or ‘it’s funny how you know so much even when you don’t listen’. Be careful with this approach though, it’s a powerful statement and needs to be controlled. And always deliver it calmly, without any malice and with a smile on your face. 

‘Excuse me’ final thought

While none of these tactics is guaranteed to protect you from interrupters, trying one or another, or maybe more than one in combination, should help you be heard instead of talked over. Getting interrupted is always unpleasant, but you don’t have to suffer it in silence. Make sure you have your say and are heard.

Excuse you!

Here are a few tips to ensure you’re not the annoying person who keeps on interrupting.

See it in yourself

The best way to break an interrupting habit is to identify the situations that you’re most likely to do it. Do you predominantly interrupt friends when they’re telling you a story, is it subject related, does it happen when you’re anxious, or tight on time? Do you typically cut people off mid sentence, or wait until near the end of what they’re saying?

By acknowledging your interruptions you’ll firstly make yourself aware how often and when you do it and reassure the person you’re interrupting that you didn’t mean it and you’re in control of it. You could actually start making quick apologies for yourself – ‘I’m sorry, I just interrupted you’, or ‘sorry, you finish’, or ‘that’s rude of me, go on’. By being apologetic you’re making the other person aware of your behaviour and that you intend to improve, and that you won’t do it again.

As you build up this self-awareness, you’ll learn how to be more comfortable with your silence without feeling the need to jump in and interrupt. And like most good things – it takes time and practice.

Just one thing

Yes I get it, you’re busy – we’re all busy! But, you must pay attention when listening to someone. So stop with the multi-tasking. By paying attention you’ll actually notice what someone has to say, you’ll absorb what they say, and you’ll appear interested in what they say. It’s so much harder to listen and pay attention when you’re doing something else at the same time. As mindfulness teaches us, stay present and you’ll stay focused. And when you’re focused, you’ll be less likely to interrupt.

Take it all in

Interrupting happens when you’re too busy formulating what you’re going to say next, instead of actually listening to the conversation. So instead of waiting for your turn to talk, turn it around, and really tune in and take in what the speaker is saying. Let the words sink in, take a moment, and only respond when there’s a pause in the conversation.

Maintain eye contact

A conversation involves more than one person – remember that. If you can make eye contact with the person talking you’ll connect with them in a more meaningful way, show them that you’re paying attention, listening, and interested. By maintaining eye contact you’ll build better relationships and make it easier for yourself when you do actually want to say something.

What and how

Listen to what they say and how it’s being said. Feel the emotion, passion, excitement, frustration. When you understand what the speaker is going through in themselves, you’ll be better positioned to provide your opinion – an opinion that is more likely to be listened to. This is something that you should do especially when you disagree with what’s being said – you’ll go in calmly, considered and thoughtful. So no more shooting comments from your hip.

No assumptions

Are you a mindreader? No! So don’t assume you know what the other person is going to say before they say it, even if you think you know. By not having predefined ideas and expectations, you force yourself to listen rather than interrupt. This trick works wonders if you’re a serial interrupter and is something you can start working on today.

Don’t jump to solutions

Interruption can happen when you feel you need to fix a problem, rather than sitting back and fully listening and appreciating what the problem is. You may have a solution, but the last thing you should do is express it before you know all the facts. In other words, don’t strategise in your head about solutions when someone’s talking as it makes you look disinterested, bored and arrogant. Remember, it’s okay to sit back, take five and work things out – only respond once you’re completely ready.

It’s all about them

We all love talking about ourselves, our own ideas and our thoughts. But there’s a time and place for that. If you’re here to listen, you need to curb thinking about yourself. When you listen to someone, try to appreciate what they’re going through at an emotional level, their situation, the impact the conversation is having on them, and put yourself in their shoes. By becoming more tuned in to the speaker, you won’t interrupt or share your opinions too early. Keep focused on them at all times and only when they’re ready, you can put in your pennies worth.

80/20 rule

There are rules to communication – one of them is the 80/20 rule. 80% listening to the people you’re speaking with, and 20% speaking yourself. Once you creep over your 20%, slow down and give others a chance to have their say. Again, this is a simple method to help break an interrupting habit, or to show someone that you are really paying attention.

‘Excuse you’ final thought

To keep track of how your ‘no interrupting’ is working, try to consider conversations as experiments. Appreciate how you listen more, learn more and understand people at a deeper level. Over time you may see that your relationships with friends and colleagues improve and become stronger the less you interrupt. When you practice listening, rather than interrupting, you’ll notice that all your conversations become a lot more interesting, and that you connect with people on a much deeper level. It really is worth the effort – for all of us.

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