When you're interrupted by someone during a conversation – whether during an informal chat or an important meeting – you probably assume the interrupter is to blame. It's their bad behavior, after all.
In reality, the blame more often than not lies with you, the speaker. Your listeners may be interrupting you because you take too long to get to the point or because you never pause to let them get a word in edgewise.
Distracting behaviors that overpower your message may also contribute to interruptions. When your body language is inconsistent with your message, your listener may be confused by what you are saying. You probably can relate to this example: The individual leading a meeting emphasizes how important it is for everyone to stay within budget to meet the client's needs, yet their posture, facial expressions, and tone of voice communicate this really isn't an emergency.
When interrupted, your natural response might be to:
- Jump in and interrupt the interrupter
- Continue talking over the interrupter
- Allow the interrupter to take control of the conversation
- Ignore the situation all together
If you find yourself interrupted often, it's time to self-reflect. When you're frequently interrupted and unable to pull the conversation back on track, you run the risk of jeopardizing your reputation and professional relationships. Others perceive you as lacking confidence, credibility, trust, and leadership skills. No one wants to follow someone who breaks under challenging situations like interruptions.
It is difficult to influence others to take action when your message is constantly interrupted. Your ideas are worth hearing. Rather than jeopardize your influence, build it by following these steps during every conversation:
1. Get to the Point Quickly
The more you say, the more you confuse, which frustrates your listeners. As their patience runs out, they may interrupt you in order to get the information they need. In conversations, less is often more.
2. Don't Let Your Passion Run Away
When you are passionate about a topic, you may feel compelled to tell your listener everything you know about it. You may assume your listeners are just as passionate as you are, but this is rarely true.
Share your passion while keeping your message tailored to what is important to your listeners. When possible, prepare for the conversation ahead of time by considering these questions:
- How much knowledge of the topic does your audience have?
- What is the audience's experience with your topic?
- What is the audience's opinion of your topic?
- What does the audience need to know to take the action you are recommending?
Using the answers to these questions to guide your message will ensure you deliver value to your listener.
Pause to listen to others. An influential communicator understands the power of persuasion involves saying less and listening more. When you communicate a message that is all about you and what you want to do, you will ignite your listeners' frustration.
When you spend time listening, you can hear what your listener is not saying. I call it "listening for the known unspoken." Pausing allows you to listen to what is important to your listener. Your listeners are less likely to interrupt when they feel you truly care about what is important to them.
4. Encourage Interaction
Get your listeners involved in the conversation so that they feel their opinions are heard. Interaction increases engagement and connection, which builds trust. It is difficult to interrupt someone whom you trust. Interaction also allows you to adapt your message on the fly, which is another way to communicate to your listeners you care about what is important to them.
5. Appreciate Feedback
Consider the interruption a gift. An interruption is actually a friendly reminder that you need to get back on track or adapt your message to your listeners' needs. Take this feedback and run with it.
In general, you can ask for feedback from family and friends you trust. Ask them to let you know when you yourself are guilty of interruption. If you tend to interrupt – whether consciously or not – your listeners will follow your lead and interrupt you.
Interruptions can be challenging to manage, but these five action steps can help you regain control of every conversation.
When you face interruptions, reflect on the situation. What worked? What didn't work? What are you willing to change for next time? Dealing with any challenging situation requires practice and feedback, and interruptions are no exception.
Stacey Hanke is the founder and communication expert of Stacey Hanke Inc. She is the author of Influence Redefined: Be the Leader You Were Meant to Be, Monday to Monday and Yes You Can!: Everything You Need From A to Z to Influence Others to Take Action.