Much has been made of the interruptions during the recent Vice Presidential debate. I believe it's indicative of "communication interruptus" that's breaking out everywhere - from boardrooms and meeting rooms to lunch rooms and chat rooms.
We're living in an impatient, impulsive, instant gratification world. Interrupting, interjecting and talking over others has become the new norm. Seems everybody wants to get a word in edgewise.
Isn't it frustrating to be plowed over by someone who thinks the only voice worth listening to is his own?
I'd like to offer a few reasons why people are cutting you off, how to prevent it, and how to handle a relentless, habitual interrupter.
1. Why it's happening:
Your first step is to figure out why people are cutting in. Are they rude or are you inadvertently inviting interruptions? Face it, some people are boorish. Always have been, always will be. But these old school interrupters are now joined by a brand new breed of interrupters. I'll call them "The Chronically Impatient."
Buoyed by instant technology and addicted to speed, "The Chronically Impatient" are having a tough time tolerating the long-winded. Pragmatists value time, clarity, and action -and they want you to get to the point, pronto. If you dilly-dally, they'll either nudge you with a brief interjection or they'll outright overpower you by butting in as if your words don't matter.
2. How do you prevent it?
Sound confident. If you speak with conviction, people are more likely to show their respect by listening instead of dismissing you and talking over you.
Don't be long-winded. Lengthy explanations invite interruptions; so get to your point as quickly as possible. One technique is to frontload your messages to meet people's specific needs and values. Busy people want you to convey brief, meaty ideas so they can get back to the gazillion others things on their to-do lists.
Don't hog the floor. Sometimes people interrupt because it's the only way they feel they can get a word in edgewise. Do you dominate discussions? If so, that may induce interruptions. Watch for signals and be aware of when others want to contribute.
3. How do you to handle a habitual interrupter?
The polite but firm retort. Sometimes you must return the dirty deed with a polite "right back at ya", with something like, "Excuse me, Tom, but I didn't get to finish. I'd like to add that..."
The private chat. If a problem persists, privately inquire, "Did you realize that you frequently interrupt me? Is there something I can do to help solve the issue?" Pragmatic people are used to being rewarded for being contributors and may have no idea that they're hurting your feelings.
Establish meeting rules. In some organizational cultures, meetings are a free-for-all that invite and reward interjections. Why not work out a system to take turns? If people know they'll have an opportunity to talk, they're more likely to wait their turn.
If you're dealing with a relentless interrupter who just won't stop, it's time to do what you witnessed during the Vice Presidential debate: FORGE AHEAD. Add a bit more volume to convey an unmistakable message that you're not going to take it anymore. The good news? Your audience will often respond for you. Most people are so turned off by rudeness that they'll start pulling for you - even if they didn't particularly support you before.