Sometimes, people jump into the middle of a conversation, even when the conversation doesn't concern them or when you aren't speaking directly to them. Often, people who interrupt don't intend to be rude or impolite, but interruptions are frustrating because they break your focus, interrupt your thought process and make it difficult to continue with the conversation. Unwanted interruptions are a common occurrence, but if you keep your cool, you can handle the situation with finesse.
Pause a moment and take a breath. A few seconds is usually long enough to help you decide how to react in a positive manner. According to Brian Sheridan, communications instructor at Mercyhurst University, a pause during difficult conversations helps you prevent automatic reactions and make more conscientious decisions.
Acknowledge the interrupter with a quick glance or nod of the head, but don't make a scene or become defensive. According to the Office of Student Conduct at University of California, Irvine, interrupters don't always realize their behavior is disrespectful and negatively impacts other people. Ignoring the interrupter usually won't make the person go away. In fact, it might just make her more persistent.
Ask firmly but politely to continue your conversation. According to author Dianna Booher in her book, "Communicate With Confidence!," it's best to acknowledge the interruption verbally and insist on finishing your sentence. For example, you might say, "Excuse me, we're having a private conversation," or "May we finish our conversation?" The interrupter is then likely to realize that he jumped into the conversation and will let you continue.
Raise your voice slightly and continue your conversation if the person continues to interrupt. In some cases, allowing a person to continue to disrupt a conversation only reinforces and encourages their negative behavior.
Assess the reason for the interruption. If the interrupter has a valid reason for interrupting, take a moment to listen before continuing with your conversation. If the matter can wait, offer to set up a time for a private conversation.
Consider allowing the person into the conversation and don't exclude people on purpose. Don't allow your conversational group to become tight-knit, cliquey or unwelcoming to possible new participants who might feel left out. Often, newcomers provide fresh thoughts and alternate points of view that enrich conversations and make them more meaningful and interesting.
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- CBS Moneywatch: Five Ways to Shut Up a Chronic Interrupter
- MindTools: Managing Interruptions
- University of Vermont Extension: Facilitating Reflection
- Center for Young Women's Health: Dealing with Cliques
- University of California, Irvine, Office of the Dean of Students: What's a Professor to do? Tips for Addressing Rude and Disruptive Classroom Behavior
- Communicate With Confidence!; Diana Booher
M.H. Dyer began her writing career as a staff writer at a community newspaper and is now a full-time commercial writer. She writes about a variety of topics, with a focus on sustainable, pesticide- and herbicide-free gardening. She is an Oregon State University Master Gardener and Master Naturalist and holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction writing.
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