Are You a Chronic Interrupter?

We have all interrupted someone mid-sentence and we all know that it is not the most polite thing to do. Each of us is guilty of doing it from time to time when we are moved to react to what someone is saying. It can be anything from a positive, “Oh wow! Really!?” to a complete cut-off where we are compelled to share our opinion or perspective immediately with the individual that we are speaking with.

However for some of us, interrupting is a bad communication habit that happens in almost every single conversation that is had with another person. While this can be a somewhat minor annoyance in our personal relationships, it can be problematic in professional relationships. Especially when it happens between a leader and a team member.

Leaders often have centre stage, simply by nature of the job description. They are there to guide, influence, motivate, and ensure that everyone is moving forward towards the same goal. They are typically the moderator of a meeting, are there to coordinate and organize efforts, and many times are looked to for setting the tone of the conversation.

For those leaders that do not have a good grasp of their communication style, they may unintentionally develop negative habits, like interrupting. It takes patience to listen to an individuals complete thought process, or recommendations, especially when a leader feels that they are going in the wrong direction.

When leaders do form the bad habit of interrupting their colleagues, or direct reports, it starts to erode relationships. It can also reduce the willingness of other individuals to engage in a meaningful conversation with them. In this case you may find that individuals will exhibit one of the following traits in dealing with someone that just won’t let them finish their thoughts.

Toe to Toe

Think back to a meeting where a handful of people are all talking at once, cutting each other off, one sentence after the other, until finally the volume is turned up, frustrations flare and the meeting ends in an unproductive huff.

Many of us have witnessed this type of professional interaction.

On one side of the spectrum, individuals will recognize that they are dealing with an interrupter and do everything they can to get their words in edgewise. They will go Toe to Toe with an interrupter and speak for as long or as loud as necessary, and this is often met with the same behaviour from the original interrupter. These are the meetings where people refuse to back down until their point has been heard, despite the fact that no one can hear what anyone is saying.

In this scenario, great ideas and strong communication don’t win - volume does.

When this type of interaction occurs, it can be easy to view the individual as aggressive, combative, or argumentative. However if you look closely, you may find that they are simply looking to have their ideas heard, in full, and wish to communicate their point of view fully. In order to do so, they push forward in a reaction to being cut off and an unhealthy communication practice is developed.

Toe and Turn

This individual will often have the initial instinct to go toe to toe with the interruptor, often because they are taken aback by the very fact that they were interrupted mid-sentence. For individuals with confident and patient communication styles, being interrupted can throw them off when it first happens. You will often see that when they are cut off, they will immediately stop talking (as they know it to be rude to speak over someone else) and politely wait for the opportunity to resume their point.

They will start where they left off, only to be cut off again. They may attempt to go Toe to Toe with the individual that continues to interrupt them, but eventually they back down and Turn away from the conversation. If this cycle continues often enough, individuals may shut down completely and even actively withhold their opinions.

Turn and Go

This last group of individuals has no interest in trying to fight for air-time, nor are they up for playing the game of “how far can I get into my sentence before I’m cut off this time?” They may be careful with their communication style, or measured with their words when explaining their perspectives and recommendations. When chronic interrupters regularly overrun individuals whom are very thoughtful with their communication style, it can be very difficult for any type of valuable exchange to happen.

These individuals will only need to be cut off or interrupted once in a conversation, and they will not make an effort to share their thoughts again — they immediately Turn and Go. The long-term affects of interrupting this type of individual can be process loss, a reduced desire to innovate, and low motivation to contribute to the success of the team.

As a leader, if you are a chronic interrupter, you will have team members shut down. Ideas stop coming. Communication stops. Meetings are relatively quiet and team members are hesitant to share ideas in a thoughtful way for fear of the impending interruption.

As you are interacting with your colleagues and team members today, actively monitor your natural tendencies to interrupt as someone else is speaking, and make note of what your instincts are.

If you find that you naturally jump in before individuals are done speaking, if you cut people off mid sentence, or if you do not leave room in the conversation for dialogue, then you may be a chronic interrupter.