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Interruption and Attention


Explanations > Perception > Attention > Interruption and Attention

Description | Example | Discussion | So what?



When the other person is speaking, interrupt them. Do not let them resume. If they attempt to do so, keep talking or interrupt again. A good way of interrupting is to use a question that forces them to think differently, for example a Socratic question.

You can also interrupt whole sequences of events or patterns of how people are behaving. Do something different. Steer the conversation in a different direction.


A savvy customer interrupts a sales person's patter, asking them what the time is. As the sales person glances at a nearby clock, the customer drives home a question about pricing that shows they are knowledgeable in this area.

A person is complaining to a therapist about their life. In the middle of the usual moan, the therapist suddenly asks 'Why?' The client is confused as their pattern is disrupted and tries to continue. The therapist interrupts again, asking them why they are moaning, and what benefit it gives them. This shocks the client into reviewing their automatic pattern. Before long, they are now working at deeper level.


When people are talking, they are often stuck inside their own heads, thinking about what they are going to say next and not paying attention to you. When you interrupt, they are forced to stop and pay attention to you. They may not be listening much to what you are saying, so, having broken their line of thought, you can take charge of the conversation.

When you interrupt, this often causes a moment's confusion, during which the person is changing course from thinking to listening and may not have fully understood what you said, although by reviewing their short-term memory they may well be able to recall it. This is an opportunity to grab the initiative and change the conversation.

One of the things that we all tend to do is to fall into patterns of talking and acting where we mindlessly repeat the pattern without too much thought as to whether it is really useful. When someone interrupts our patterns, particularly if it is done regularly, this can have a an effect that is so disruptive to the pattern that it effectively kills it.

So what?

To get attention when people are talking, wait until they are in an automatic flow of talk and interrupt at a surprising moment.

See also

Interrupting, Questioning Techniques, Confusion principle, Surprise principle


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