How to Stop People Interrupting
News Posted: 16 February 2023
I’m doing a blog on how to stop interrupting because I get asked this question a lot! It might be useful to ask why. When I dig a bit deeper and ask some more questions, these same people say they have a problem being heard at meetings generally. For example, people ask them to speak up or when they do speak they aren’t necessarily acknowledged. If they’re acknowledged at all, it may well be in a relatively perfunctory manner. I find this so often that it’s logical to conclude there’s a correlation between not having a strong enough voice to be clearly heard and an increased frequency in being interrupted.
When your voice lets you down
We all know that in some meetings there are loud and dominant members who we all have to listen to. These people will try to speak over everyone and often do. However, they’re 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 keep others at bay you’re a target to be spoken over and 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. Put simply; people talk over you if they feel they can. The first thing, therefore, is to look at your voice and ask yourself these questions:
How loud would I say my voice is on a scale of 1-10?
Can the person farthest away from me hear my voice with ease?
Am I articulating all the vowels and consonants clearly?
Can I raise my voice to energy level 8 without shouting? If not, why not?
Am I comfortable being visible and being really heard?
Turning your voice up changes how people see you and your ideas
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.
Of course, there’ll always be people who interrupt and there’s very good reasons why this isn’t useful. In some cases they’re impatient and want answers, in other cases they might be plain rude. Either way as a confident professional you want to be able to hold your own space. Therefore, it’s your job to stop them. Not to do so on a repeated basis will increasingly silence you and reduce your status in the group. Clearly this is not a desired state of affairs.
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. Therefore, your posture should be good whenever you’re speaking. From this foundation you’re ready physically to combat interruptions.
What’s good posture?
Feet planted on the floor
Knees hip-width apart
Move away from leaning on the back of the chair so your spine’s unsupported.
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.
The process of stopping interruptions
You have to get in quick. As soon as the interrupter speaks the following happens more or less at the same time:
Take a little breath in to your lower abdomen
Push your feet gently into the floor
Give a palm down, relaxed gesture towards the person interrupting.
Glance at them only for a moment
Then make immediate eye contact with the rest of the group
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.
And keep going. 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 you aren’t thrown off balance by the interrupter and you’re perfectly comfortable.
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 but you don’t have to. If it’s a serial interrupter they may need to be taught the new rules of the game!
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 my blog on performing Brilliantly at Meetings)
- Don’t hold your breath. Especially when the interrupter interrupts. Keep the breath dropping in and out of the lower abdomen.
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 again and again. The consensus is that people don’t feel they’ve been treated rudely when this technique is employed skilfully and in a relaxed manner. 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. People will thank you for it.
When you’ve mastered this technique don’t let it go to your head! There will be times when you need to be aware and politic. If a senior leader interrupts you, it might be a good idea to let her or him have air time. As always, you decide.
This type of communication coaching and training always aims to empower you to have more choices not to tell you what to do when. It’s neither artificial nor contrived, rather a tabulation of optimal ways of communicating that have emerged over the aeons and we as human beings innately recognise.
If you would like any further information on this subject or would like to discuss any aspect of communication coaching or training please get in touch me with here.