Do you interrupt people a lot? Do loved ones complain that you chime in by cutting them off in conversation?
All of us cut into a conversation sometimes, and some interruptions can be helpful or clarifying. You may have an important correction to make, you may have information to add that the other person doesn’t have, or a decision has to be made and cannot be delayed. But some people butt into a conversation and interrupt someone else’s train of thought more routinely. It’s not that your two-cents’ worth isn’t valued; it’s simply that barging in on someone who’s talking may break their train of thought so that they don’t remember exactly what they were trying to say.
It’s also rude to cut someone off in conversation repeatedly, and it’s likely to anger them. At the very least they will not feel heard or listened to, and they are likely to feel disrespected by you. If you are a chronic interrupter, it might be helpful to ask yourself why you’re so impatient to grab the floor away from someone else. Try this exercise from author Byron Katie, in her book I Need Your Love—Is That True? The next time you interrupt, silently say to yourself: “I’m not letting you finish your sentence because…” (and fill in the blank).
Some examples she offers are:
- I don’t want to hear what you’re saying.
- I can see where you’re going and I have something more clever to say.
- I fear you’re trying to blame me.
- I fear what you’re saying is true.
- I fear you’re trying to make me look bad.
- I’m afraid I’ll forget what I have to say.
- If I don’t chime in now, I’ll lose this great opportunity to impress you.
To these I might add:
- You’re taking too long to get to the point.
- You’re going into too much detail, and I’m losing interest.
All of these can be ways of defending ourselves from what we don’t want to hear. But they don’t foster good communication in a relationship, and they can make people feel that you’re not interested in what they have to say. If this fits you, here are a few suggestions you might consider trying:
Adopt the three-second rule. Sometimes the person you’re talking with hasn’t finished—they’ve just paused. If you adopt this rule by waiting three seconds before you speak, you would correct the vast majority of interruptions.
Jot down what you want to say. Sometimes we interrupt because we don’t want to forget what we wish to say. But if you simply jot down a few notes to yourself, you could capture your main thoughts and therefore listen to the other person until they are finished.
And finally, when you find your behavior so automatic that you only become aware of your interruption after it has happened, try apologizing. Something like: “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to cut you off. Please complete what you were trying to say.” Then let them.