How to Stop Interrupting Others & Why You Should

Having to take your earphones off as someone interrupts your surprisingly peaceful attempt at mowing your lawn is one of life’s painful nuisances.

Finding out that you paused your meditative experience only to be told that you missed a patch on the lawn turns a nuisance into a disturbance (if not an annoyance). 

Recommended Book: Principles: Life and Work.

This article aims to provide reasons as to why interrupting people is so often a bad idea, and provides a simple method for you to tame your interruptions.  

You may be tasked with checking someone’s work in organized as well as casual social settings. New employees can be assigned to shadow you at work, or you may be guiding someone through the process of painting a fence on the weekend. Knowing how to correct someone’s work or provide an addition to their dialogue are important skills to tune. 

 


Why We Interrupt


Apart from instinctively labeling our own thoughts as more important than the thoughts of others, interrupting others is also a manifestation of low patience and self-control. 

When entrenched in deep thought while thinking of counter-points during conversations, we often get caught on the hook of a good idea and are compelled to voice it as soon as we determine it to be great. This behavior exhibits a lack of being strict with the level of ideas you publish to the world. 

Interruptions are birthed from a lack of forgiveness and an embellished value placed on the importance of the conversation taking place. Interruptions are fueled by an inability to let go of the little things mixed with a desire to prove yourself in what may be a competitive intellectual realm. 

Even if what you are about to say is proven to be correct in your mind, the way you present it may hinder its acceptance. Presenting your good ideas via interruptive methods is a good way to encourage them to be wrongly interpreted simply due to your method of delivery. 

 


Why Interruptions Hurt


Most of the negative reaction to being interrupted stems from being indirectly labeled as unimportant. The act of us being interrupted by others gives us a sense of worthlessness in our attempts to be heard. 

Our word is deemed unimportant enough to simply be put to a halt and spoken over. Our ideas are not taken with the seriousness which we consider them with when presenting them to the world.

Being interrupted in the middle of presenting an idea of ours makes us lose confidence in presenting our ideas in the future and thereby makes us resent the people who gave birth to that doubt. Our performance in future bouts of dialogue or presentation often falters consequently. 

There are also aspects of being interrupted which give birth to competitive feelings in some, thereby an interruptive back and forth never fails to make its mark on a previously peaceful conversation. Humans instinctively value what they have to say as more important than the pending dialogue from other people. This feeling serves as a catalyst to interruptions which are difficult to tame. 

 


You Ruin the Audience’s Listening Experience Too


Educating the speaker of any conversation or presentation that there are interruptive individuals ready to jump on any trivial misstep of theirs encourages a lack of confidence in the things they say. They’ll be anxious presenting anything as fact, and will dread the interruptive “But umm…” from those who deem themselves more knowledgeable than the rest. 

Though the victims of such interruptions are the ones who suffer most, disregarding the audience’s experience is an often overlooked mistake to make. Any audience to a speaker’s dialogue will now be subject to not only listening to an interrupted flow of ideas, they’d also now witness a jumpy presenter ready to rebut. 

Any sense of tranquil intellectual discourse will fly right out the window. General levels of discomfort go up in a room when someone keeps getting interrupted. 

 


Interrupting People Working: Bringing More Value Than Annoyance


One of the primary reasons why people telling us that we’ve missed a spot while vacuuming the carpet is aggravating is because such an interruption often brings more annoyance than value with it. 

The various factors in you missing a spot may be legitimate and strategic on your part. You may have even known about the missed spot and planned to tackle it in the coming moments.

The complexities present in people’s work and dialogue set up your interruptions to bring annoyance opposed to value right off the bat.  

The assumption that someone actually doing the work hasn’t noticed the thing they missed is not a logical one to make. Inherently, their vantage point is superior to yours; as they’d be the ones with the first person perspective. Even if they did miss the spot in the meantime, your act of interrupting their work suggests that you don’t trust their own audit process to notice the things they missed prior to calling it a job that’s finished. 

In essence, interrupting early and telling them they’ve missed a spot communicates that you either don’t trust their perspective or that you don’t have faith in their own act of checking their work. 

It’s thereby a lose lose situation from your position. The individuals you attempt to illuminate a missed spot to are unlikely to take the message in good faith. You’d ensure yourself to be more of a nuisance than a courier of important information. 

 


Granting Yourself Undeserved Authority


People in positions of checking the work we do or the things we say are typically in a position of higher authority than us. Even if the position is not officially recognized, an implicit difference in skill level may be present in a situation where someone checks the work you do. 

Telling people they’ve missed a spot, said the wrong word, or haven’t gotten their facts right communicates that you’re more knowledgeable than they are in the matter at hand. You’d also inherently communicate that your uninterrupted word matters more than theirs at that moment in time. 

Recommended Book: Educated: A Memoir.

If that authority over knowledge or deservedness to speak in the context in which you interrupt people isn’t agreed on by those who listen, your interruption will be disdained. 

People are often surprised to find their factual, well meaning interruptions to have been negatively received by both, the people they interrupt, and the audience listening to those people. Often times, the reason for that negative reception (or a lack of any acknowledgement) is the undeserved authority the people interrupting would be granting themselves in the process. 

Be careful of how authoritative you’re perceived as by the people you’re interrupting along with anyone listening to those you seek to interrupt. A sense of authority in the subject at hand should be established prior to any interruptive bouts of dialogue. Building that authority by way of interrupting others seldom works in your favor. 

 


How to Stop: It’s Both Easy and Hard to Do


Learning how to stop interrupting others can simply be boiled down to one thing: If your interruption can wait, then it should. 

That rule however, is a skilled conniver. It’s slippery and coercive. Our desires to have our voice be heard are so powerful, that asking ourselves “Can this wait?” often results in an all too familiar ending. We end up hearing ourselves talk. 

Your standard for things being able to wait prior to being said by you should thereby be strict. It should be so strict that you should always have a well defined reason for why you’re interrupting someone else. You should always be willing to voice that reason, and the reason should always be accepted by the audience as well as those you interrupt. 

This strict standard should abide by whether any damage will result if you were to not interrupt the people speaking. 

Who or what will be hurt if you don’t interrupt an individual speaking or doing something? The answer to that question should have discrete and measurable content. These individuals could be speaking to important stakeholders about important metrics as to the status of the department you work in. The damage they do in that regard would center around stakeholder expectations which can trickle down to affect project success metrics down the line. An interruption with a correction in that case would be well worth it. 

 


When You’re Absolutely Required to Interrupt Someone:


The following are pointers to keep in mind when you determine it to be more dangerous to allow someone to continue on with their dialogue than to interrupt them. 

  • The Jagged Edges of Your Correction

When correcting people, minimize any jagged edges of your correction which aspects of their self importance may attach to. Ensure you always have in mind the final goals that they tried to reach while employing incorrect methods. Strictly make the connection between the end-goal not being met and the methods which they used to meet it.

Your act of correcting somebody contains jagged edges when you include baseless/useless remarks in the process of correcting and guiding their behavior. Statements like, “…at least you tried,” or, “I shouldn’t have assigned this task to you,” are considered jagged edges. These statements are useless in their efforts to mitigate incorrect behavior, and are perhaps detrimental to your mission of getting the correct actions out of somebody.

  • Call Out the Good

Always encourage good ideas, and when you see that the person you are correcting was on the right track for a portion of their dialogue or work, make it known. Dissect their actions utilizing the most unemotional method which you are capable of. In no way should your emotion or unfiltered negative reactions ever play a part in correcting someone. This is a vulnerable time to which the people you are correcting can react in a variety of ways.

Calling out the good aspects makes you a believable and warm teacher. Not everything the person who you are correcting does, did, or will do, is bad. There have to be good aspects to the work they’ve put in or words they’ve said. It is important to recognize the positive efforts they’ve invested in the work they did and effort they’ve put in.

Recommended Book: Notes from Underground.
  • Get it Over With Quickly

When it comes time to educate the person on discrete items which they were incorrect on, get it over with quickly. Blatantly state which aspects were incorrect and how you know them to have been so. 

Ensure that your method of explanation is delivered in an educational tone rather than being dictated. The sting of an interruptive always hurts your listener, which is why you need to get it over with quickly. You should not dwell on their act of being wrong, but rather focus on their journey toward becoming right.

Call out their wrongs quickly, and move forward with the plan to correct their actions or work. Control the emotional response of the person you are trying to correct in all aspects of the interaction, and do not internally rank them as any lesser than yourself for making these mistakes.

Practice viewing mistakes as opportunities for growth, for both yourself and the person who made the mistake. Control your own emotions upon the discovery of their mistake and bring it up in a subtle, unassuming way.

 


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Disclaimer of Opinion: This article is presented only as opinion. It does not make any scientific, factual, or legal claims in any way.