Please stop interrupting me!

“Wait, let me finish . . . what I was trying to say is interrupting other people is rude.”

When you interrupt someone it says to the person talking that what you have to say is more important than what they are sharing. It shows disregard for the person and what they are saying.

As I researched interrupting, I discovered many interesting studies about how women and men communicate. When it comes to interrupting others, men are twice as likely to interrupt women then they are other men. Women interrupt other women more often than they do men but not usually to take the floor. Instead, they often interrupt to be encouraging, as in saying something like, “I know what you mean” or “That sounds hard.”

According to gender communication expert and author Deborah Tannen, men communicate to determine and achieve power and status which leads to more interrupting, especially of women. Women communicate to create connection, and because of this they are less likely to interrupt others which can feel combative rather than collaborative. However, there are women who interrupt to determine power.

No matter who is doing the interrupting, it’s not an enjoyable way to converse with someone. When a person consistently interrupts me I end up feeling like we’re at war rather than having a conversation. It seems pointless and unproductive.

If you tend to be an interrupter, ask yourself why you’re doing it, especially if you’re a man who regularly interrupts women. Are you doing it to dominate; do you want to add to what someone is saying; or is it that you’re worried you’ll forget what you have to say? If you find it is an unconscious need to dominate, stop right now. It’s not a productive way to communicate and your communication partner will most likely shut down rather than continue to fight for the floor. If you’re concerned you’ll forget what you want to say, jot it down on a notepad and then share what you have to say when the other person is finished talking.

For those of you who are interrupted – don’t acquiesce the floor easily. As Ms. Tannen wrote in a 2012 New York Times article, “An interruption takes two — one to start, the other to stop.” However, I would argue, you don’t have to stop talking to be interrupted. I have a female colleague who regularly interrupts me. If I keep talking she talks louder. It becomes a shouting match. I now say to her, “Please let me finish.” And, that’s exactly what the person being interrupted should do. You could also say, “I’d love to hear what you have to say when I’m finished.” Don’t talk louder to out talk the other person, no one is able to hear anything and it seems to create tension and anger. Instead, calmly, but firmly ask the other person to let you finish speaking. If the interrupter continues to interject point it out. Say something like, “Joe, did you know you have interrupted my five times in our conversation. Would you please stop interrupting me? It’s making it difficult to have a discussion.”

Bottom line, don’t interrupt others. It’s rude, arrogant and selfish and usually doesn’t win you many brownie points with others.

How do you feel about being interrupted? Do you keep talking or do you give up the floor? Have you ever asked someone to stop interrupting you?

 

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Arden

Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>

18 Comments

  1. Sue on April 28, 2017 at 6:52 am

    I find myself interrupting people that are slow talkers or if I am pressed for time. Suggestions?



  2. Arden on April 28, 2017 at 8:08 am

    Sue, thanks for stopping by. Studies have shown that fast talkers will get frustrated with slow talkers and slow talkers will feel rushed or tense when talking to fast talkers. When you start feeling impatient, take a deep breath and be present. Listen without interruption. Giving someone your full attention and listening without interrupting can be hard, but it can also be really powerful. If you’re in a hurry, either wait to talk later when you have more time, or say to someone “I’ve got five minutes before my next meeting, will that be enough time to discuss the xyz project? If not, let’s schedule a time to talk later.” I hope that helps.



  3. JEFFREY OLSEN on November 27, 2018 at 3:01 am

    My wife is the worst at this! She will ask me to share an experience I had and then she processes to give the punch line while I’m telling the story. I usually just stop and ask her if she wants to tell it…then she gets mad later. Another example is…a friend is in the middle of sharing a story about how their loved one was just diagnosed with cancer..and wife will derail the story to tell about how her mom had cancer….it is embarrassing and she doesn’t think she is wrong. Help?



  4. Arden on December 4, 2018 at 9:04 pm

    Hi Jeffrey,

    That’s hard when a spouse interrupts others to turn the story or topic to her/himself. Have you tried explaining to her how you feel when she interrupts you to finish your story and asking her to please stop. Often sharing how a person’s actions affect you and making a request is an effective way of asking for what you need. Good luck.



  5. Ron Thacker on April 30, 2019 at 5:48 pm

    It seems to me that your advise is narrow for a wide range of situations. For example, a woman approaches her husband who is on the phone. Instead of interrupting. she leaves the area. A half hour later she finds that he is still on the phone. After a few seconds he looks up at her and harshly says “I’m on the phone!” Earlier, he had told her that they might go out to eat. She wanted to find out if he wanted to do that or did she need to start preparing dinner. According to your advice, she would have been rude to interrupt his conversation. One time when this happened, she stated preparing the meal only to find out that he had made reservations at a restaurant. Another time, he was upset because she had not started preparing dinner.

    Some people stay on the phone a large part of the day. Why are those conversations necessarily more important than something that family members need to know?



  6. Arden on April 30, 2019 at 6:16 pm

    Thanks for your comment Ron. I’m referring to when you are conversing with someone, not when you need to interrupt someone doing something else. Of course you would need to interrupt someone talking on the phone if you need more information from them within a certain time frame.



  7. David MILLS on July 6, 2019 at 11:06 pm

    I’m in a new relationship with someone. My understanding is being tested and pushed to different places. It is the same, whoever is talking first, the other interrupts and talks saying they got cut off. When for example, I started the portion referring to, but get cut off saying im selfish, don’t care or don’t listen. Gets much worse if say how it’s making me feel or what can do to be better. always results in an argument, I usually am understanding say understand, I see what you’re saying etc. It doesn’t get returned or understood that way. What can I do?



  8. Arden on July 8, 2019 at 2:58 pm

    Hmm, sounds like a lot of misunderstanding. I’m not sure I can help you. Maybe couple’s counseling would be helpful. Good luck.



  9. Norma McAndrew on September 2, 2019 at 1:11 pm

    After 25 years of marriage my husbands interruptions got so bad, it got to where I would not even bother to answer a question because I knew he wasn’t interested in what I had to say. I have learned that the best teacher is hands on experience. I began by just ignoring him. It was not long before he asked “how do you think that makes me feel?”. Perfect opportunity! I was able to point out that I knew exactly how it felt! Six years later he will still interrupt but he has learned to recognize it more, and I have learned to say “I was talking.” Interrupters will probably always tend to interrupt, but we can still learn to politely point out that we were not through talking.



  10. Arden on September 3, 2019 at 3:59 pm

    Hello Norma. It sounds like you figured out a solution to get your husband to mostly stop interrupting you. It’s always a good idea to ask someone to stop interrupting you, as so often they aren’t aware they are doing it.



  11. Jeff Brennan on December 31, 2019 at 11:00 pm

    Another challenge with interrupting is that some dialects have speech patterns that include overlapping speech. Deborah Tannen has studied this phenomenon also. If you are conversing with someone that overlaps and you wait for them to pause, they might wonder why you never say anything and might be offended that you aren’t engaged in the conversation.



  12. Gayle M. Gruenberg on March 19, 2020 at 10:39 am

    It drives me INSANE when someone interrupts a conversation. I agree that it is rude, arrogant, and disrespectful. It makes me think the interrupter has no manners. Granted some conversations can become lively and exciting, and it’s very difficult to not interrupt, but in a general exchange of information, it’s just plain rude.



  13. Karen on March 24, 2020 at 10:05 pm

    To me, as a woman, there is a lot of “overlapping talk” (as Tannen calls it) in my typical conversations with my friends. In fact, back in college, my friend and I had to record ourselves talking for five minutes for a language class and then write a transcript. In those five minutes, I don’t think EITHER of us got through a completed sentence! We were best friends, and liked to finish each other’s thoughts. To me, that’s very different than TRULY interrupting, in a negative way. In a negative interruption, that is where you change the topic to talk about something different, or to steal the spotlight.

    Example:
    Beth: “Omg, it is SO…”
    Samantha: “Freezing out! I know!”
    They both laugh.
    Beth: “I cannot believe I forgot my coat!”
    Samantha: Laugh.
    Beth: “At least I had my gloves!”
    Samantha: “Omg, you are so silly! Come here and watch this show.”
    Beth: “What…”
    Samantha: “The Golden…”
    Beth: “Girls!”

    To me, this is just how people (especially female friends) talk. Not interrupting. Now, if Beth is talking about being cold and Samantha IGNORES that topic and starts talking about TV or a class, then there’s a disconnect.



  14. Arden on March 27, 2020 at 3:38 pm

    Hi Karen,
    Thank you for sharing your observations. What you’re talking about is an example of dialogue and not really interruption. Women especially seem to use this type of communication where we banter back and forth, sometimes finishing what someone was going to say to show we are on the same page. However, if by continually jumping in and stopping your conversation partner from finishing their thought it will get frustrating for your friend who will feel you’re interrupting her. It’s a balance between sounding encouraging and interrupting.



  15. Ashli on May 20, 2020 at 1:21 pm

    Too many people interrupt when calling American businesses too, it’s ridiculous. I just called a pharmacy and the technician lady interrupted IMPORTANT INFORMATION in my question, she never let me FINISH MY QUESTION or any of my ANSWERS to her questions! I try to make it OBVIOUS by politely asking “Oh? Did I just interrupt you? I’m sorry, oh… go ahead…” to MAKE A STRONG POINT.
    This cretin at the pharmacy still CONTINUED to interrupt me; it’s EXASPERATING!! If the moron had SIMPLY LET ME FINISH SPEAKING the info, it would have been a pleasant, brief conversation… instead, it just built up huge frustrations!!



  16. Arden on August 26, 2020 at 11:44 am

    I feel your frustration Ashli. We just need to accept some people will never get it. Interrupting is in their DNA, as maddening as it is.



  17. Cecily on September 9, 2020 at 5:35 am

    I am constantly being interrupted by my husband however in my case it is always for a correction in the story that I am telling. In every single case it is a very insignificant issue but he does it all the time.

    For example:
    Me: “We went to the place you had suggested on Friday and…”
    Him: “No, no no it was Saturday, not Friday

    Me: “I understand you are thinking about moving to Pennsylvania, I am so excited for…
    Him: “It’s Philadelphia that they are moving to”

    Me: “I remember when Johanna and I were roommates in college and the building where the new bookstore is on 38th is was where we would buy pretzels and……”
    Him: “That’s not right at all, the bookstore is not on 38th it is on…whatever Street

    Each time we are in a group having conversations and each time I am being interrupted by him with insignificant corrections that I often find myself getting infuriated with.

    Suggestions?

    I have said:

    Let me finish
    Stop interrupting me
    I don’t know the answer to that question right now
    I lost my train of thought



  18. Arden on September 9, 2020 at 7:08 am

    Hello Cecily,
    It’s always frustrating when people interrupt us, especially a spouse. What I would suggest is you have a private conversation with your husband and in a kind tone explain to him how you feel when he interrupts you and ask him to please stop. Example: “John, when you interrupt a story I’m sharing with others to correct me I feel criticized and patronized. Will you please not interrupt me when I’m speaking even if you think I may have the facts wrong.” By using I statements rather than you statements you are taking responsibility for your feelings and making a request. You’re not making him wrong, you’re simply stating how his actions make you feel. I statements are a lot easier to hear and absorb. I hope that helps.

    Arden



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