Dealing with interruptions in a meeting room of big personalities can feel like standing on a motorway and trying to hold the attention of incoming traffic. The thought of “I’m going to be interrupted any second,” can grow louder and louder in your mind until someone actually does.
Behind this thought could lie the assumption that others don’t think you have anything to say or that you can never make yourself heard. This is at odds with reality. It’s time to turn your thinking around. There are tools for handling interruptions and giving your voice the space it needs to be heard. And it starts with your presence.
Show confidence from the outset
The way you enter the room shapes the way you’ll stay in the room. One person comes in silently, head down, another comes in shaking hands and making jokes. The first is likely to be overlooked for the following hour, the second is probably going to continue attracting attention. Simply by smiling and greeting people, you’re making a statement of your presence, in just a few moments. Even paying attention to your posture - shoulders back - can make a difference here. This is when people take note of you - and how you act now affects how they will listen later.
Don’t make it your story
Anyone can be interrupted and certain people will always interrupt, no matter what. Don’t make the mistake of creating a story around it. We often build narratives around the events that happen around us, in an attempt to make sense of things. But these stories are fallible and often don’t cohere with facts. Though we can experience these things as facts, there is a beauty to be found in distinguishing between the actual event (someone just stepped on my toe) and the story we tell ourselves about it (they hurt me on purpose, they must be angry at me for what I said yesterday).
When we create stories around interruptions - like I’m always being interrupted, or They don’t think I’m worth listening to - it’s a surefire way to muzzle ourselves.
Instead, try to tune into the story and let it go. Consider an interruption as something that simply happened, not as evidence to back up a familiar narrative. When you do this, you drain the negative emotion out of the experience. You can then deal with it in a better way, with a clearer head. When we take the story we’ve told ourselves out of the equation, we aren’t so defensive and it’s easier to be kind to the person who interrupted us.
Listen - and actively
When we listen well to others, they are more inclined to listen well to us. It’s a quid pro quo. By actively listening, we create a good energy around us, so if we interrupt or stop someone interrupting, little or no offense is taken.
Work on your delivery
Next time you speak, step back from yourself and consider how you might be getting in the way of your own impact.
Your vocal and visual style matters because it affects whether your message will matter to your listeners. If you need to dial up your energy, dial it up. If you’re going too much off the cuff, invest in some preparation. If you need to express ideas with more clarity, use flows of logic - for example problem-evidence-solution - to order your arguments concisely. All of this will make you less likely to be interrupted, and if you are, practise responding with firmness and grace.
A useful exercise is to record yourself speaking and then look back at it objectively. It can separate out how you think you're coming across with how you're actually sounding and looking. Sometimes this can be quite eye-opening.
Prepare for being interrupted
When interruptions come your way, you have three options:
- Keep talking. This may not suit every personality, but when you’re in a flow, you don’t have to stop the moment someone interrupts. Keep in mind that you need to have clear energy and intention to drive your point through all the way to the end. Also be careful to not let this become a battle of who is more determined to get their point across. That sort of competition should stay firmly in the bounds of radio debates on BBC 4. If an interruption becomes too annoying, for your own dignity’s sake be prepared to stop.
- Interrupt back. But not straight away. Give the other person a moment to get rid of their adrenalin and then take the ball back. If you do this, always interrupt with a positive. Usually, interruptions occur in discussions of high excitement and energy, so you can use this to your advantage by affirming the energy of your interrupter: “That’s such a good thought, I’d love to add…” or, “You’re right, it makes me think about… “ When you respond like this, everyone will turn in your direction because there are good vibes flowing from you.
- Name it nicely. If someone’s jumped in, say “excuse me (insert their name here).” Pause for a second. Then give them an endorsement such as, “You’re making a really good point. I’m really interested, but I was in the middle of a point. I’d really like to finish, is that ok with you?” Or “Thanks for raising that point. I hadn’t quite finished. Would you mind if I carry on?”
If ever you choose option 3, you need to ensure the tone of your voice is right. Keep it neutral and don’t give out any negative energy. You’ll want to give a downward inflect (i.e. don’t let your voice go up at the end) to your final, “Would you mind if I carried on?” so that it’s more of a statement than a request that can be refused. It’s still an important question, however. It stops the moment from feeling like a scolding and turns it into a simple human interaction.
When taking the ball back in conversation, you’ll also want to watch out for:
- Tentative disclaimers such as ‘I just want to say’, ‘how about?, ‘I’m just thinking out loud…’. These are one of the seven undermining habits and can make you sound unsure; even inviting interruption by someone eagerly waiting to take over from you and jump in with their ideas.
- Filler language: Use intonation and pauses instead to control the pace of your speech.
- Tension in the voice: Keep talking calmly; you have the conversational ‘right of way’.
You’ll always have to deal with interruptions in some capacity. But the good news is that you don’t have to be belittled by them. It’s an easy fix to rise above these moments and come out soaring. If you’re being blown off course by interruptions, call us for a chat on 0203 137 6323 and we’ll help you navigate those winds.
Be sure to check out our Effective Communication course which addresses this and other familiar communication struggles. Every week, our coaches help clients overcome familiar communication struggles like dealing with interruptions. They've decided to take the ball back. How about you?