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When not to interrupt


Techniques > Conversation techniques > Steering the conversation > When to interrupt

Think of something | Haven't finished | Aroused | Busy | Seeking information | More power | Less power | See also


Sometimes you can try to interrupt a person who is talking and end up in a battle (which may only take a second) over who is allowed to talk. Sometimes it is just not a good idea.

Do note, however, that these are all guidelines and not absolutes. Sometime you just have to interrupt!

When you think of something to say

When the other person is saying something, you may suddenly think of something to say, perhaps as a rebuttal to their words or maybe some associated thought you have had.

Typically at this point you stop listening and start looking for a point at which to interrupt. A big problem with this is that if you are not listening to them, you may well miss points where you can interrupt. Also, by the time you do interrupt, the subject may have moved on, leading to confusion.

When you think of something to say, first pause to consider whether it is worth interrupting the other person. Secondly consider the notes below. If you can show respect listening until they are finished, perhaps they will also show respect to you.

When they haven't finished

The need for completion implies that if we are in the middle of saying something and another person tries to interrupt us, we will have such a strong need to complete what we are saying, we will fight off any interruptions. Even if the interrupter wins, we may still fight back by not listening to them and completing what we were saying as soon as we can.

When they are aroused

When the other person is in an emotional or aroused state, they will be particularly keen to have their say. When you detect passion, it can be best to wait for them to blow themselves out.

When they are sending busy signals

It is often not difficult to read the signals that people send that they are not really ready to be interrupted. If you interrupt at this time, again it will likely be an uphill struggle and perhaps you should wait a while.

Busy signals include not looking at you, motormouth rapid talking, dominant body language and power body language.

When you are seeking information

Sometimes you are on a particular mission to discover information that they may have, for example in an interview or research situation. In these cases, you want them to talk as much as possible.

Your interrupts here should be short and use careful questioning. The rest of the time should be spend in close listening. If you are covertly seeking information, too much listening can be suspicious, in which case you might sprinkle in some more normal interrupts to allay any fears.

When they have more power

When the other person has significantly more Power than you, for example if they are a senior manager, then it is generally best to let them finish, both because they will assume that they will be allowed to complete and also because they may use their power against you if you try to interrupt.

When you have concluded that they have had a reasonable time in which to talk, it is generally fair for you to butt in more forcefully, using one of the many other interruption techniques.

When they have less power

Sometimes people who are significantly less powerful than you get to talk. Before you interrupt them, stop to consider that they may not have had much chance and this may be a courageous act for them.

Rather than 'being the boss' (or maybe being the bull) and charging in, pause to give them space. Listen with interest -- the little people can have big ideas too, just like you.

See also

Power, When to interrupt, Interrogation


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