How to Interrupt Politely

by Zoe Maletta
If you interrupt with tact and good timing, you won’t offend people.

If you interrupt with tact and good timing, you won’t offend people.

Interrupting a conversation may be taboo in Mayberry -- that television town where life is slow and conversations are even slower -- but a polite interruption or two is not out of place in the fast-paced real world. The next time you need to slow an incessant talker down, ask a guest deep in conversation what she would like to drink or turn an offensive line of conversation back on the right track, you can interrupt with good, old-fashioned etiquette and leave everyone smiling.

Check your purpose. Although your especially deep thought may be considerably more interesting than your friend's monologue, try to contain yourself just a little bit longer. A general rule to follow when deciding if it is necessary to interrupt is to ask yourself if what you need to say is self-focused or focused on others. For example, interrupting with the news that your favorite author has a new release isn't okay; interrupting with the news that your friend is about to knock over a drink is something all will appreciate.

Employ good timing. Office Coach Marie McIntyre encourages those who need to interrupt a long-winded speaker to simply wait for a pause at the end of a sentence. Take caution, however. Your verbose friend may need to finish the thought. Use discernment to determine if it's indeed your turn to speak.

Preface your interruption. Take an interruption from rude to polite status by simply giving a heads-up. Catch the speaker's eye, smile and say something like, "I hate to interrupt but . . . " and then follow your interruption with a sincere apology.

Raise your hand. Whether you're in a one-on-one conversation, with friends at a party or participating in a business meeting discussion, non-spoken communication is an excellent way to signal your need to interrupt. The editors at Fast Company magazine agree, noting that this technique is both subtle and direct. Raise your hand or hold a finger up and the speaker will hand the floor over to you as soon as he's ready.

Express appreciation. When Jodi Glickman's husband found it difficult to interrupt a particularly detailed and passionate acquaintance, he managed to say his goodbyes with a thank you and a complementary word about the speaker's thoughts. Writing for Harvard Business Review, Glickman explains that this approach not only helped the interrupted person feel good about himself, it gave the interrupter a way to exit gracefully and guilt free.


  • When interrupting seems nearly impossible to do with tact, or when a conversation is turning sour, consider steering the conversation instead. Ask a different, yet related, question of another member in the group or simply look for a segue to another topic altogether.


  • Sometimes you need to interrupt someone already engaged in a conversation. Although you may be tempted to stand nearby waiting your turn, this isn't as polite as you may think. Maralee McKee, founder of Manners Mentor, Inc., advises that this can appear to be hovering or childish, adding discomfort to those conversing. Instead, interrupt briefly and ask your desired contact to talk to you at a later time.

About the Author

Zoe Maletta writes on a variety of topics with special focus on leadership, careers and small business management. Professionally writing since 2007, her many publishers include "The Houston Chronicle", "Global Post Careers" and "The Nest." When she's not writing, Maletta enjoys making memories with family and participating in church ministry. Maletta holds both a B.S.and an M.A. in counseling.

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