10 Tips to Help You Stop Interrupting

Monday, July 14, 2014

10 Tips to Help You Stop Interrupting

In a recent coaching session, a client asked if I could help him break the habit of interrupting.  He told me that several team members had confronted him about frequently talking over them – interrupting.  They were honest enough to tell him just how much it had become a consistent source of frustration for them.  In collaboration with my client, we came up with several strategies that ultimately helped him to virtually eliminate his “communication destroyer” habit.

One of the quickest ways to shut down communication is to interrupt.  When someone repeatedly interrupts others it not only derails communication, but it also diminishes the trust and respect people have for them.

I won't tell you

If your relationships are compromised due to a habit of interrupting I encourage you to read and practice the 10 Tips to Help You Stop Interrupting below.

Live, Work and Relate Well!

Dr. Todd

1.  Write your thoughts down so you don’t forget.  While this may not be possible in a spontaneous conversation, it is effective if you know in advance that you will be engaging in a discussion. Jotting down a quick note to remind yourself to bring up a point or question will free up your mind to continue listening until the other person is finished.

2.  Place a greater priority on listening for understanding than on trying to be understood.  Develop a mindset of “It’s all about others.”

When people feel listened to they tend to talk less. If they don’t think you’re really hearing them, they’ll keep talking to try to get through.

When you interrupt, you’re telling the other person that what they have to say is not important.  That will hinder real communication.

3.  Quickly assess the importance of what you are about to blurt out.  When the person stops speaking, count to five while asking yourself, “Is what I have to say absolutely critical to the conversation?” Your answer will be “no” most of the time.

4.  In his book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, Marshall Goldsmith refers to “transaction flaws” that are performed by one person against another. Some of these contribute to your risk for interrupting.

Winning too much – the need to win may cause you to speak impetuously to try to get the upper hand.

Adding too much value – the overwhelming desire to add your two cents to every discussion makes it hard to keep quiet.

Telling the world how smart you are – trying to prove you’re smart may cause you to interject your commentary too often.

Not listening – a passive-aggressive form of interruption because the speaker is unlikely to finish what they’re saying when they realize you’re not engaged in the dialog.

5.  You might interrupt because you genuinely want to be helpful or positively influence a conversation.  The irony is that you will have more influence by being a good listener and waiting to be asked what you think than you will by interrupting others.

6.  Allow others to hold you accountable. Let them know you’re working on reducing your interruptions and be open to their feedback.  The positive side effect could be that you will help raise their awareness and they will also be more willing to resist interrupting you.

7.  Keep your mouth closed, literally. Practice keeping your lips together and don’t open them.

8.  Do not talk until someone asks for your thoughts. This is almost guaranteed to give you a reputation of possessing wisdom!

9.  When you catch yourself talking over someone, graciously say, “I’m sorry, you were about to say…” (and then close your mouth again.)

10. Remember, you alienate people rather than impress them when you interrupt.  Others will come away from conversations with you feeling frustrated, annoyed and unsatisfied. However, if you listen twice as much as you talk, people are likely to consider you a brilliant conversationalist!

What additional tips have you found helpful for breaking the habit of interrupting? I would love to hear about them!

Dr. Todd is a licensed psychologist, executive coach, published author, and national conference and seminar speaker. He has been a featured expert on national and local radio talk shows and television news programs.

22 thoughts on “10 Tips to Help You Stop Interrupting

  1. Just wanted to say thank you very much for these helpful tips. I have a bad habit of this and am determined to break it.

    1. I evidently talk over people without realizing it—as a call center agent when I stop talking, trying to break the habit, customers will ask if I am still there ( on the phone). How do I solve this issue?

  2. I have an enormous problem with it. It’s affecting my marriage, and work relationships. It’s almost like an addiction. I’m a recovering from a serious heroin problem. I’ve been sober 3 years now. But somehow I can’t break this habit. Any other suggestions?? I think I might be broken!!

    1. Oh Lisa! You are most definitely NOT broken. You (like us all) are a work in progress. You recognize the issue and want to do something about it and that is far more than most. Just keep practicing the steps above and (if you’re a person of faith) pray for dedication to the steps. You can totally do this if you were able to kick heroin. Hang in there!

  3. I too struggle. What has helped me is if I force myself to focus only on what that person is saying rather than my reply, when they stop talking my reply is well received. Had I interrupted with my reply it worked been dismissed because of how I made them feel by interrupting.

  4. This is excellent advice; however, I would love to go one step further. I struggle with compulsive talking and interrupting. I have been given the “advice” to talk less for years, but just telling me I talk too much does HELP me be better or change. I have been frustrated that people assume it is a blindspot. I KNOW of the issue, but just knowing has not been enough to help me change. Is there therapy or other things that can help if it isn’t an easy fix? I leave interactions hating myself for talking. Sometimes I feel like doing the things listed above makes me a bad listener, as I am so focused on NOT talking that I am missing things and become less engaged. One last thing that I could use help with…people are so used to me being talkative, that when I practice these tips, I get accused of being mad, upset or asked what is wrong. How do I make the change if others won’t acknowledge it as a good thing?

    1. Thank you for being brave enough to share your struggle. You are not alone! There are others reading your comment who share your frustration. None of us want to harbor a habit that can interfere with – or even damage – our relationships. Compulsive talking can come from a number of sources, but in some cases it could possibly stem from challenges like an attention-deficit disorder, which can make it difficult to focus and resist the impulse to talk, or from anxiety of some sort. If you have not been able to reduce your interruptions in spite of your ongoing efforts, it may be helpful to explore the cause with a counselor. That said, lifelong habits don’t change overnight. Using the 10 Tips, keep trying and don’t give up. It will take other people awhile to adjust to your new patterns of behavior and if you smile and let them know that you’re working on talking less, they will quickly figure out that your silence isn’t caused by anger. Thank them for their patience as you work on developing your skills, and they may become great allies in your battle against this frustrating habit.

      1. Thank you Dr Todd. I was just told by my dearest friend that I constantly do this and I’m afraid of damaging this friendship. I’m aware but don’t know how to stop. I printed your 10 tips and hopefully I can apply them. I am a senior and agree Steve old habits are hard to break.

        1. Hi Marie,

          Old habits are hard to break, but at any age or stage of life, if you engage in deliberate and consistent practice over time, you can literally change your brain and there establish a new habit. I wish you the best in your efforts, Marie.

  5. All the above is EXCELLENT! I too, need to work on talking less and listening more. I definitely don’t want to be known as an opera singer, (“me, me, me, me, me” !)
    At almost 63, old habits are hard to break but I am trying.
    Thanks 🙂

  6. While I’ve had problems with this at home too, I was just approached by my supervisor yesterday, as he was approached by his higher ups earlier about my horrible habit of excessive talking & interrupting. He was understanding and sympathetic but talked about how it was becoming a big enough problem for the higher ups to notice. 🙁

    I do suffer from ADHD/anxiety and I even went into this job apologizing ahead of time for my blurting and interrupting that may inevitably happen (like I do in any situation) and I’m a work in progress.

    Regardless, it still got so bad that I had to be pulled aside, which absolutely crushed me as I’ve been trying recently to be more conscious of it.

    I’ve always just tried to better it in my own ways but after yesterday’s humbling experience I realized I needed to look up other ways to help outside of my own understanding. Especially if they’re trying to groom me for management. I will not let this horrible habit hinder that!!

    So so so thankful I came across this article. I will keep this bookmarked on my phone and start fresh right now!

    Here’s to being a better listener and learning to shut my mouth; only opening it when needed/wanted. <3

  7. This is def something that people always have told me I do. I didnt take it as serious until I met my fiance. It really hurts his feeling when i interrupt him. Like I don’t have a desire to hear about his day or what he is saying is not important. It crushed me that he feels that way. I am going to change this habit!

  8. thank you so much for this it is my greatest problems and is costing me everything and I am ready to work on it and will accept all the help I can get

  9. I started a new job a month ago after my career at one job for nearly 3 decades came to an end. Today I had a ” see how things are going” meeting with my new supervisor. The very first thing discussed was my interupting others while they are talking. I know I do it and I know I always seem to have something to interject when others are speaking. If I have to buy Gorilla glue to stop myself from this relationship damaging problem, that’s what I will do. It will not matter what how well you perform if people can’t stand being around you and don’t respect you because you appear to be rude and not care about what others have to say. I truly don’t mean to be disrespectful or rude. When I get this pointed out to me it is usually after someone is already frustrated with me and the damage has been done. I spend the next couple of days feeling like people don’t like me and not really liking myself. I need to write things down and let people have the attention they deserve when they are talking. I feel so bad that I have let my interrupting tarnish my reputation at my new job. I can’t even write a reply without going on and on and on

    1. Thanks for sharing your concerns with us. After reading your comments I am wondering if the stress and anxiety that might naturally accompany such a huge transition could be at play for you. Starting a new job is stressful in any circumstance, but after 30 years in one place, it must be intense! I would encourage you to review the tips regularly to keep them fresh in your mind, but you might find it helpful to try some strategies for reducing your stress and anxiety as well. Back in December of 2015 we published a 2-part blog called, “What to Do for Stress Overload”. (Part 1 was on Dec. 3 and Part 2 was on Dec. 10.) You can use the search box at the top of the page to enter the title and find those blogs. Maybe some of the tips I shared would help you through the stressful season of being the “new kid” at work after many years of seniority. But, be encouraged. The fact that you are aware of the problem and willing to address it is a big step forward in getting your interrupting under control!

  10. I’m thankful for your comments. I have this problem and need to focus on changing it. Ironically I am normally a quiet person and rarely feel comfortable talking around others. When I do find someone I’m close to I do interrupt and have seen this as a way to keep the conversation flowing. I’ve noticed though that the two people who recently confronted me about my interrupting or not listening do the same themselves and have “reasons” for their behaviors but mine is the problem.

  11. The habit of interrupting is so common that most of us do it at times, but you are ahead of the game by recognizing it and working on it. It is human nature to see our own flaws in other people, which may be why others mentioned it to you. As you make the effort to quit interrupting, they may find themselves becoming more aware when they do it and may become willing to work on it, too. Friends helping each other overcome a bad habit can be very effective!

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