The Right Way to Interrupt Someone

A client of mine is working on her networking skills. She recently mentioned she was having trouble with managing a conversation when the other person won’t stop talking.

Understandably, she does not want to be impolite or rude. But at the same time, allowing the other person to drone on and on about unimportant details wastes both her time and their time.

The first thing to remember is that interruption does not have to be rude.

The ability to interrupt in a respectful way that advances the conversation and contributes to the other person is actually a sign of leadership. It shows that you are respectful of the other person, and also able to manage a conversation and keep it on track.

Here are several key steps to avoid being rude when interrupting:

First, match the other person’s energy.

If they are high-energy, get high energy. If they are quiet and low-key, then enter the conversation from that place.

Whether they are happy, sad, excited, nervous, angry, or anything else, you want to roughly match that energy and vibe in the moments leading up to your interruption.

This is important because it shows them that you are listening and paying attention. If they feel heard and paid attention to, they will not feel that your interruption is an intrusion. Rather it will be received as a welcome addition to their own perspective–and that’s what you’re going for.

Here is an easy way to see this rule in action: go to any bar or restaurant on a Saturday night and observe groups of friends interacting. One person will be talking, and then another person jumps in and cuts them off, then another jumps in after that person, and so on. The conversation has a random feel to it, but it seems fun and enjoyable for everybody.

Nobody feels disrespected because everybody in the group is sharing the same positive emotions. Instead of feeling like they’ve been “silenced” everyone just feels like they are in a great group of people who are each contributing to the positive vibe.

Second, validate what they are saying.

This is done very simply: nodding as the other person is speaking, saying “yeah” or “cool” or “that makes sense” and so on.

But the main thing being communicated, again, is “I’m listening to you and I am on the same page.”

They feel heard and respected

Validating through body language and words, while they are speaking, opens them up to your contribution, which comes next.

Third, add value.

When you finally do speak up and start talking, you will contribute something–an idea, a quick story, an experience, an opinion–that adds on to what they have been saying. You want to reinforce their point or at least agree with it and acknowledge it.

Randomly changing the topic is jolting and makes the person feel like you haven’t been listening.

Instead, start by agreeing and expanding on it.

This is very easy to do if you have been matching their energy and nodding already in the moments leading up to this interruption.

Fourth, transition to the new topic.

Now that you have their attention, and they feel like you have been listening and validating what they’re saying, they will be open to the new topic you want to discuss.

Because you are the main one talking now, you can easily just switch topics from one sentence to the next:

“We definitely did a great job on that project, it was awesome. By the way, have you seen those new reports come out?”

“I have a friend who went to Italy last summer too. She loved it, she wants to go back soon. Oh, I just remembered something, were you able to follow up with that new client?”

Don’t be afraid of interruptions and multiple people talking simultaneously. It’s a normal and common part of conversation.

And you will encounter all types of people for whom interruption is totally acceptable.

Some people are just blabbermouths who never know when to stop talking.

Some people will hope that you will interrupt them because they are uncomfortable with the spotlight, but out of nervousness they keep going (for those people, look for an expression of relief on their face when you finally speak up).

Others are very strong-willed and will expect a strong conversation partner to jump in and add their own value from time to time.

They don’t want a meek conversation partner. They want someone with presence and assertiveness. And they will respect a strong, assertive person much more.

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