Have you been watching the US presidential debates? Watching, that is, not reading the articles summarising what happened. Because we have, and it’s got us thinking about interruptions. Most of us, let’s be honest, are both an interrupter at times, and also the interrupted. So it’s worth unpacking.
To back track, this is what the stats show:
Debate 1: Trump interrupted Clinton 51 times; Clinton interrupted Trump 17 times
Debate 2: Trump interrupted Clinton 17 times; Clinton interrupted Trump once
Debate 3: Trump interrupted Clinton 37 times; Clinton interrupted Trump 9 times
Interesting, but not entirely surprising even when you take the personalities out of the equation. Click here for more on interruptions and gender, unconscious bias etc. But putting the gender piece aside, let’s unpack it.
First, why do people interrupt?
The key here is that not all interruptions are equal and intention is important. Below are some Interrupter Profiles. Which one are you?
1. The Over-Excited Interrupter – well-intentioned, often interrupting to affirm your point, or because they get your point and have a thought about it. Don’t hate them for it. Often works best to go with the flow or interrupt them back. In fact, if the tone is positive they tend to consider conversations where interruptions are frequent as lively, energising and productive.
2. The Bulldozer – focused on getting things done, this person interrupts in the interest of efficiency and reaching an outcome in the shortest possible time. There is generally no ill-intent towards the speaker, other than perhaps mild frustration. If this happens to you often, it’s worth considering if you are taking too long to make your point, or repeating yourself.
3. The Blurter – lacking self-regulation, this person’s interruptions are driven by strong emotion. It could be anger, frustration, irritation or anxiety, and it results in thoughts spoken out loud with the lack of a filter.*
4. The Tactical Interrupter – this person knows they are interrupting and uses it as a tactic to side-line, dismiss and redirect attention. For this person, interrupting is a conscious tactic used to get the upper hand. Also known as a bully.*
* Trump’s Interrupter Profile?
Second, what to do about it?
There’s no simple answer, but having a few options to manage interruptions is a good idea. As most interrupters are well-intentioned, it’s best to respond calmly and avoid taking it personally. These are some things to try:
1. Use a physical gesture to regain control. This may be a raised open hand in their direction, or a raised finger (pointing… not the middle one), which diverts attention away from the interrupter. Holding the gesture while you finish your point holds attention and focus.
2. Allow the interrupter to make their point before stepping in again, calmly saying “just to finish my previous comment…”
3. Interrupt them back, saying “just a minute…” and continuing what you were saying.
4. Ignore the interruption completely and continue to speak. This works particularly well for managing the Tactical Interrupter. If a tactic doesn’t work, people stop using the tactic.
And if you find you are often interrupted, some reflection on your communication style may be in order. Do you speak too slowly? Include too much detail? Go off on tangents?
…read one thing, make it this thought-provoking article about the pertinent negative. ‘What’s that?’ hear you ask. Well, it’s just really interesting and relevant if you want to make sure you truly understand issues, situations and problems, and are able to make good decisions. If you can’t be bothered reading, just watch the video:
That’s all Vibe tribe.
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