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The Art of the Polite Interruption

It’s only natural to get excited when you are having a fun conversation, with thoughts and ideas popping into your head and the words flowing. But be careful not to talk before your conversation partners take a break, intentionally or otherwise interrupting them.

Patience Is a Virtue

It’s been said many times that we have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak. Actively listening, holding our response to allow the other person, or people, to finish talking is more than polite—it allows us to engage with the other person and quite possibly learn something useful. This is especially important when conversing with your boss, a friend, or a relative; you may think the world of them, but cutting them off mid-sentence will always come across as a sign of disrespect.

When conversing in person, each person’s body language gives cues about when they are ready to listen or speak.(etonastenka/Shutterstock)

In Person

When talking with another person, look for cues that they have more to say. As an example, if they realize you want to respond, they may hold up a hand to signal they have more to say. Another clue is a look, combined with a slight shake of the head, at which point you need to hold your thought. If you are speaking, you can use these same cues to let someone know you aren’t quite done talking.

If you are the one who was interrupted, simply wait until they are done, and reply, “Let’s come back to that,“ or “As I was saying,” before completing your statement. You can also stop talking and make eye contact, perhaps accented by a slight head tilt. When they realize they were talking over you, hopefully, they will rein in their exuberance a bit.

Since phone calls are not face-to-face, it’s especially important to pay attention to the other person’s voice inflections and pauses. (Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock)

On the Phone

Because we are not face-to-face while talking on the phone, it can be easier to interrupt each other’s sentences. To prevent this faux pas, actively listen to what they are saying, paying close attention not only to the actual words, but also to the inflections they’re using, such as making a statement that is actually a question, which should prompt your response. Some people may speak slowly, so be sure to allow them to complete their thought before you speak. If you must, write down your thoughts so you don’t forget them, or worse, don’t listen to the other person because you are too busy focusing on what you want to say.

If you’re the one being constantly interrupted, consider that the other person might not be aware of what they are doing, perhaps because the topic you are discussing is exciting. Stop talking and ask them to please allow you to complete your sentence; chances are, they will be embarrassed and now be on their best behavior. If they persist in butting in, end the call, telling them you can pick it up again later.

In a Group

When talking with two or more people, the chances of interruptions greatly increase. This can be because of a rapid, excited flow of information and ideas, or it can be caused by someone feeling superior or bored by the way the conversation is going. If you realize someone is constantly butting in and interrupting, try to redirect the conversation in hopes of re-engaging with that person. If they keep interrupting, bring the conversation to a halt, and, using a nice tone, ask them to behave more appropriately.

If you realize you are the person interrupting, hold your tongue and allow the others to speak. If they want to come back to what you were saying, they will.

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