Interrupting Without Guilt

This is a guest post by Ann Kruse, creator of The Savvy Advisor.

Momma raised me to believe that interrupting others is rude.  Then I grew up and entered the world of business meetings.  Sheer survival taught me that there are times when interrupting is necessary.

It took me years to be able to interrupt without guilt.  Here’s my quick guide to how to do it:

When to interrupt:

  • To re-focus to the purpose of the conversation.  Interrupt to re-direct the conversation to serve the purposes of the group.
  • To share airtime.  Interrupt to allow someone else (not yourself) to get airtime.  If you are grabbing the airtime yourself, be a little more cautious and check the group’s reaction.
  • To provide information the group needs to know.  Interrupt to warn that the building is on fire. Or to remind the group that they must vacate the room in five minutes.
  • To manage the level of detail.  The information is relevant, but too much for this conversation.  The detail belongs in a different conversation. 

How to interrupt:

I used to wait for the person who was talking to stop for a breath, and then discovered that some people apparently don’t need to breathe.  Here’s what I do now:

  • Take ownership of your decision to interrupt.  Say “I’d like to hear other opinions” rather than “I think the group would like to hear other opinions.”
  • Get attention by speaking at a level slightly louder than the person who is speaking and use a person’s name if possible.  Names get attention.  It might be the person who is speaking or someone else.   
  • Re-direct the conversation to a specific place (not a general complaint or criticism about how long-winded the speaker is).  Examples:
    • Re-directing to another person:  “Mary, what’s your opinion?”
    • Re-directing to another subject:  “Bob, you said there were three reasons.  What’s the second one?”
    • If the subject is relevant but too much detail, re-direct to a conclusion: “Harry, what’s your recommendation?”
    • Re-directing to yourself:  “I had a different experience with that vendor.   [pause to check the reaction of the group]…Here’s what happened….”

The bottom line is this: 

  • As a participant in the conversation, you have as much right as anyone to guide the conversation. 
  • Test your motives.  It’s OK to interrupt to serve the purpose of the group or the conversation, but not simply to grab the limelight for yourself.
  • Do it surgically, with a brisk, pointed statement or question re-directing the conversation to a specific location.

Everyone else will heave a sigh of relief and you will be the hero!

© 2011 Ann Kruse

About The Author: Ann Kruse, JD, MSOD, CPCC, ACC, is the creator of The Savvy Advisor℠ a blog for professionals who are passionate about building deep, enduring, and high-trust relationships with their clients. She can be reached at Ann@AnnKruse.com or 1-425-391-1882. Her websites are www.TheSavvyAdvisor.com and www.AnnKruse.com.

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