Voice and Communication Coaching

How to Stop People Interrupting

News Posted: 16 February 2023

Oh no! Here he comes again!

Oh no! Here he comes again!

‘How do I stop people talking over me?’ is the one of the questions I’m asked the most. I think people want to me to give them a technique that will help them put the person doing the interrupting in his or her place. Understandably so. The question, though, is a little more complex than it might first seem. People interrupt because they think they can. The question for me is why do they think they can? How are you behaving that allows them to think they can get away with it?

Of course, there are serial interrupters who will interrupt just about anybody; and there are certainly techniques to contain their influence. However, let’s deal with limiting the possibility of being interrupted and then deal with actual interruptions.

To that end we’ll be looking at the following areas:

  1. What your voice says about you

  1. Turning up your voice

  1. What your posture says about you

  1. Why do people interrupt?

  1. Stopping interruptions

  1. How to practise

  1. Does the interrupter feel upset or insulted?

  1. Be judicious

  1. What your voice says about you

Can you think of a few people you’ve worked with who are loud, dominant and talk – a lot! These people speak over people given the chance. Aren’t they more likely to speak over softly spoken people who have less impact and presence? If your voice isn’t strong enough to command the room, demand respect and have a strength that keep others at bay you’re a target to be spoken over; not just by dominant members of the group but by anyone who feels like it. It’s the law of the jungle really - the strongest voices get heard because these voices are bigger. People talk over you because they feel they can. The first thing, therefore, is to look at your voice and ask yourself these questions:

  1. How loud would I say my voice is on a scale of 1-10?
  2. Can the person farthest away from me hear my voice with ease?
  3. Am I articulating all the vowels and consonants clearly?
  4. Can I raise my voice to energy level 8 without shouting? If not, why not?
  5. Am I comfortable being visible and being really heard?

  1. Turning up your voice

Increasing the power of your voice and improving your articulation will change how people perceive you. You’ll engender more respect. People will subconsciously associate the power of your voice with the power of your message and people will interrupt you less.

So how do you turn up your voice?

To distil a very complex process down to a simple one:

  • Fix your attention to the farthest point in the room. This could be the window or a wall.
  • Imagine your voice as an arc of sound going up into the air and just as the arc descends reaching this farthest point.
  • Sit in an energised posture that I’ll describe below.
  1. What your posture says about you

Your posture can also reveal lot about you and will give people a positive or negative impression about you. In fact, your posture and your voice are inextricably linked. It helps to have a posture that looks energised and present. A good posture will allow you to breathe in more easily which in turn allows the breath to fuel the voice.

What’s a good posture?

  • Feet planted on the floor
  • Knees hip-width apart
  • Move away from leaning on the back of the chair so you aren’t using the back of the chair for support.
  • Imagine a cord pulling your head to the ceiling as your spine straightens.

Now you’re embodying a posture that means business, looks confident and can stop interruptions if necessary.

  1. Why do people interrupt?

Are people interrupting because they’re getting bored and frustrated? Perhaps you’re:

  • Not getting to your point quickly enough?
  • You’re rambling?
  • You’re mumbling?
  • You aren’t clearly signposting what you’re going to talk about?
  • You aren’t speaking loud enough?
  • You don’t look present and like you’re commanding the space

It could be that you’re doing all of the above but you have someone who feels quite at liberty to talk over you. This person may interrupt you and other people on a regular basis. You don’t have to put up with it.

  1. Stopping interruptions

Have you noticed how difficult it can be to stop someone talking over you? You know that you should stop them but somehow the moment passes and now they’ve taken over and you sit there feeling disempowered and frustrated.

Stopping people interrupting like all communication is a physical process involving behaviours. When you’re speaking it’s a good idea to adopt the posture I’ve outlined above. If you’ve been interrupted this posture will give you an advantage.

The process of stopping interruptions

As soon as the interrupter speaks the following happens more or less at the same time:

  1. Take a little breath in to your lower abdomen
  2. Push your feet gently into the floor
  3. Give a palm down, relaxed gesture towards the person interrupting.
  4. Glance at them only for a moment
  5. Then make immediate eye contact with the other people in your group
  6. Say whatever feels appropriate. For example “I’d like to finish what I’m saying”, “If I can finish what I’m saying”. You decide what feels appropriate.
  7. And keep speaking. Don’t wait for permission from the interrupter or anyone else.

Your gesture towards the interrupter should be soft, relaxed and low. Your voice is smooth so you don’t come across as aggressive but only keen to keep the focus on what you’re saying. You want to look like comfortable and calm so no one can interpret your behaviours as frustrated or angry.

It’s also important NOT to look at the person interrupting which can be very counter-intuitive. The reasons for this are:

  • It stops challenge building up between you both.
  • The eye contact you make with the group dilutes any awkwardness either you or the interrupter might feel.
  • It aligns you with the group.

Remember you can always invite the interrupter back in when you’ve finished with a palm up gesture. You might want to say something along the lines of ‘Sorry, I wanted to finish what I was saying?’, ‘Would you like to come in?’, ‘You were saying..?’.

If the incident involved a serial interrupter and you’re teaching them that you aren’t someone they can regularly interrupt you may decide to say nothing.

  1. How to practise

I know this is a lot to do at the same time and look calm and relaxed! Here are some tips to make it a bit easier:

  • Have your response ready when someone interrupts. Choose something that feels acceptable to you.
  • Practise your posture at meetings generally so you’ve got the hang of it in less stressful situations.
  • Practice making eye contact with the group before you practise this technique. It’s part of forming a good positive dynamic in the meeting (see Performing Brilliantly at Meetings)
  • Don’t hold your breath. Especially when the interrupter interrupts. Keep breathing.
  1. Does the interrupter feel upset or insulted?

We don’t want to go around offending people even if some people are rude and interrupt the whole time!

I’ve worked with many groups and seen people employ this technique on many occasions. The consensus is that people interrupting don’t feel they’ve been treated rudely when this technique is employed skilfully and in a relaxed manner. That doesn’t mean it might not come as a bit of a shock to someone who has been interrupting with impunity!

Not only will you begin to feel heard and hold your space, you’ll also maintain your own personal integrity and that of the meeting. You may be helping to keep the meeting on agenda.

Remember you can always come back after you have said what you wanted and let the person speak but now you’re in charge, not them.

  1. Be judicious

It’s always a judgement call when you stop an interruption. If a senior leader interrupts you of course it would be a good idea to let her or him speak. Consider strategically which people you should stop interrupting you and those that you give way to.

If someone always interrupts you and this has become an established pattern, it may take a while for them to play by the new rules of the game. Be patient and most importantly be relaxed and calm when stopping the interruptions.

Next Steps

The type of communication coaching and training always aims to empower you to have more choices rather than tell you what to do when. It’s neither artificial nor contrived, rather a tabulation of optimal ways of communicating that have emerged in successful human interaction.

If you would like any further information on this subject or would like to discuss any other aspect of communication coaching or training please get in touch me with here.

Author Posted by: Louise Collins.

Go back