You’ve just been interrupted. Again. Constant interrupting can lead to feeling dismissed, belittled, and even rejected. Discover why people interrupt in the first place so you can calmly respond in any situation. Plus, learn how to adjust your communication to exude confidence and reduce constant interrupting.
How to Stop People From Interrupting You
If people constantly interrupt you, you may feel like this has conditioned you to let others take charge. You’re so focused on being nice and polite that whenever someone talks over you, you immediately stop talking and let them take over the conversation.
You can use verbal and nonverbal cues, so you don’t have to feel bulldozed in conversations.
Normal conversation requires a give and take, a moving back and forth to communicate a thought, fact, or emotion. But when one person constantly moves forward verbally, and you always retreat, it changes from communication to dominance. The best way to stop people from interrupting you is to be more assertive. Before you tune us out and say assertive communication isn’t for you, we have a secret to tell you.
You can be assertive. And nice.
When we say that you need to be assertive, we’re not talking about World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) aggressive. Think more along the lines of calm and confident. Assertive communication is taking ownership of your responses and interactions.
- Hold your ground.
- Believe in what you have to say.
- Teach others that you expect them to communicate with mutual respect.
Try our 8 techniques to assertively keep others from interrupting you.
If you’re talking softly, trailing off at the end of a sentence, or generally speaking in a droning monotone, many people will take this as a cue that they can… or SHOULD, interrupt you. Keep charge of the conversation using the Teacher Technique and speaking with authority. Make sure to project your voice, like a teacher would, to be loud enough for everyone in the room to hear. You don’t have to yell; varying pitch volume can indicate you are saying something significant.
Also, try with a downward inflection, which conveys authority, at the end of your sentences. This is different than upskeak, which can sound like you’re asking a question after your sentences.
People can sense when you aren’t confident; unfortunately, they may take that as an opportunity to push you to the side verbally. You’re inviting an interruption if you speak hesitantly or don’t believe in your words. This is especially true in group settings or at work. Project confidence using the President Technique, and utilize your body language to show you are confident and in control. Some ways to show confidence are controlling your breathing, standing with good posture, limiting self-touching, and making eye contact.
Few people have inspired the world, like Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela is our favorite example when you think about using the President technique. Even after years of being imprisoned, his posture and movement are calm and confident.
If you watch interviews with him, he is unhurried with his speech and commands the space he inhabits.
People may interrupt because you’re talking too much. In this case, you should get to the point. If it’s a work meeting, use the Facts Technique and plan what you want to cover, making sure to avoid going on detours.
Here are a few questions to keep you on track and from oversharing.
What is your goal? If you need to present the results of a survey you conducted, then present the results. Skip unnecessary details. Focus on what’s important, and fill in details if they ask for more information.
What is your relationship? The amount of information you share with a person is influenced by the closeness of your relationship. Your boss, normally, shouldn’t hear about problems with your partner or what you ate for breakfast.
If you’re focused, it’s easier for the people listening to focus on what you are saying.
Eye contact is powerful, and we often look for eye contact as our chance to say something. If you’re in the middle of talking, use the Owl Technique to make good eye contact with each person in the room, but remember to look away. Glancing away, especially from the person who looks like they might interrupt, sends a nonverbal cue that you are in charge of this conversation and don’t want input yet.
Now that you have 3 tips to keep others from interrupting, Vanessa Van Edwards shares 3 more techniques to take back the conversation naturally. Don’t worry. These cues are perfect for the nicest and least aggressive conversationalist.
Here are the highlights from the video:
When someone has interrupted you or hijacked the conversation entirely, move to open your mouth. You can even do this as an intake of breath and hold your mouth open for a second. This nonverbal cue lets others know you have something to say.
Hold your hand up briefly, either casually or as a full-on-stop—this cues that you have something to stay. Or, if you want to keep someone from interrupting, use this cue but hold your fingers straighter showing a stop and say, “Let me just finish this thought.” This will temporarily hold the other person off from interrupting.
Set a boundary in your conversation by letting others know you have a few things to cover. For example, “I have a couple of questions… One…” or, “I have 3 thoughts about this. One… “. If you know you’re talking to a conversation dominator, use this technique so they know they need to wait their turn until you’ve hit all your points.
Don’t Take Interruptions to Heart
When people interrupt you, it might not be about you at all. Here’s why.
Regardless of why someone interrupts you, that person might be caught up in their head and thoughts. They communicate not from their awareness of their surroundings but from an internal need.
Whether they are pulling a power play, overly excited, or their brain processes things differently, they might interrupt regardless of who was standing in front of them.
You may take interruptions very personally (we do, too!). But that feeling of hurt and rejection can cause you to withdraw.
But try not to take it too personally.
We won’t encourage you to be domineering or overly aggressive. But you can respond by not taking the interruption personally and instead facing it with confidence and strength.
Interrupting can sometimes be conversational bullying; the only way to stop a bully is to stand your ground.
Why Do People Keep Interrupting Me?
There are 5 main reasons people keep interrupting you, some of which might surprise you.
They Are Just Too Excited
Imagine your coworker is talking about a book by your favorite author. You’re so excited to find someone who loves speculative fiction as much as you do, and you jump into the conversation mid-sentence.
You know what it feels like to be so excited you can’t wait. When you’re on the receiving end of this interruption, please take it as a positive interaction. Yes, it is an annoying interruption, but it has the potential to be positive.
Action Steps: Respond to excited interruptions in 1 of 3 ways.
- Use it as an opportunity to connect. For example, respond with, “Wait! You love it too? What do you think about…?” Lean into the excitement instead of being frustrated by it.
- Practice setting a verbal boundary. If someone is excited, you’ll probably see the excitement building on their face. Watch out for those cues, and before they interrupt, try saying, “I can see you’re excited! Let me finish this thought.” Throw in the Bookmark Technique to emphasize you want them to wait.
- Avert eye contact. Use the Owl Technique when you notice someone is getting overly excited so you don’t inadvertently cue them to interrupt.
Tips for Interrupters:
- When you interrupt because of overexcitement, apologize and say, “I’m sorry for interrupting. I’m just so excited about this topic. Please keep going; I want to hear the rest of what you have to say.”
- Next, try strengthening your listening skills. Instead of focusing on what you want to say, nod as you listen and lean in to show interest. Regulate your excitement by reminding yourself that you’ll have a turn to talk.
Interrupting Can Show Connection and Relationship
Part of building rapport and connection can include interrupting each other. This interrupting differs from excited interrupting because all parties involved are enthusiastic, and instead of feeling silenced, each person feels heard.
Whenever individuals discover shared things in common, this strengthens communication. Rapport interrupting puts this into practice.
Julia Goldberg’s study of interruptions and conversation analysis states, “Rapport-oriented interruptions…are generally understood as expressions of open empathy, affection, solidarity, interest, concern, etc.”
You’ve probably seen this communication style between long-term couples, but it can happen with anyone.
For example, you’re having a conversation with your neighbor and mention one of your friends in passing. They jump in and enthusiastically say, “Wait! You know Ron?!” The ensuing conversation includes much interrupting as you excitedly discover that you both know your favorite person in the world.
Pro Tip: Watch out for overuse of rapport interruptions. While interrupting in conversation can show connection, interest, and support, if you constantly interrupt, the people in your life will quickly tire of this.
- Be observant of yourself! Consciously look for when you engage in rapport interruptions.
- Ask yourself: Do I only rapport interrupt with specific people? Is this because I already have a close relationship with them or because I’m trying to develop a connection?
- Look for nonverbal cues. How does the other person (or people) look when I rapport interrupt? Are they engaged and relaxed, or do they show signs of displeasure? Look for them pressing their lips together, leaning away from you, flexing their lower eyelids, and sighing.
- If someone in your life constantly rapport interrupts, let them know it’s too much. You can say, “I love that you are always so engaged in our conversations, but sometimes I don’t feel like I have a chance to express my feelings when you interrupt me.
- If you’re in a position of authority and people inappropriately interrupt meetings, implement both the Teacher and the President Techniques to communicate confidence and authority.
Sometimes Interrupting is a Power Play
It’s not surprising that some people interrupt as an act of dominance, and there’s a huge gender disparity with this one. One supreme court justices study found that men speaking to women are 33% more likely to interrupt than when talking to a man.
But it’s not just about gender.
Organizational hierarchy, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity can influence interrupting to gain power. It can also happen in daily conversations between friends, family, and coworkers. Power plays often stem from a need to prove that a person is in control.
Why do we need control? Many times, it’s because of a feeling of powerlessness.
Next time someone makes a power play, remember that person’s behavior may be a desperate attempt to take back control. This knowledge can give you a sense of compassion—not for their behavior but for their internal insecurity state.
This should also give you confidence. People who use power to manipulate or dominate are good at bluffing. Don’t be intimidated by their smoke and mirrors.
- Think about them like a child throwing a temper tantrum. Their need to be in control doesn’t negate their competence or self-worth. Your mindset is critical here. Going head-to-head with them can cause an all-out war. Get your perspective straight, and move forward strategically and calmly.
- Remember, your goal in conversation isn’t to “win.” They want to win at all costs, so ascribing to this mindset will disadvantage you. Instead, throw off the narrative of dominance and submission they’ve created. You can do this by communicating not as an adversary to defeat but as an equal to connect with.
- Hold the floor. If someone tries to take over the conversation by talking over you, continue talking. Continue with what you were saying to signal that you are still going. Sometimes this can feel too aggressive. But sometimes, it provides enough pushback for them to realize they can’t bully you into silence.
- Be prepared. Gently take back the conversation using the Fish Technique (open your mouth like you’re about to speak), or prevent the interruption using the Bookmark Technique (lift your hand casually to interject). If neither of these works, look for a natural entry back into the conversation and say, “I just want to circle back for a moment…”
- Sometimes, the best option is to let it go. This doesn’t mean you should absorb feelings of rejection or anger. Instead, gently release the breath (that you’re probably holding!) and avoid dwelling on it for the rest of the conversation or meeting.
Tip for Bystanders: If you’ve just observed someone interrupting a coworker or friend, it may be easier for you to advocate for them than for them to stand up against a power play. Try using these sample sentences:
- “I’d love to hear the rest of what (insert name of person interrupted) was saying”
- “Did you have more you wanted to say on this (insert name of person interrupted)?
- “I don’t think you meant to interrupt, but I believe (insert name of person interrupted) hadn’t quite finished their thoughts.”
It’s a Part of Their Personality
Some personalities are naturally impatient; they interrupt because they are anxious to arrive at a conclusion or to take charge of a situation.
Or, they may thrive on global thinking. If someone is a global thinker (as opposed to linear thinking that follows a linear sequence of thought), they may prefer to have the conclusion up-front. This way, the conclusion acts as their frame of reference to help organize their thinking about the details.
If you find the other person is distressed by long stories, try giving them the end of the story at the beginning and then filling in the details afterward.
Or, if you have a coworker who interrupts your long explanations, try getting straight to the point. Only some people want to know the rationale and journey you went on to arrive at your professional conclusion. Being a good communicator is learning the communication styles of those you interact with regularly.
Pro Tip: Avoid long meandering stories when talking to a person prone to impatience and opt for a matter-of-fact tone of voice.
Action Step: Next time you’re conversing with someone who regularly interrupts, use the Facts Technique and skip straight to the details. Then observe if this reduces how much they interrupt you. You can also use the Preview Technique, stating at the outset how many points you want to cover. If they still interrupt, try limiting the length of time you speak to allow for more turn-taking in the conversation.
For example, you could say, “After running a competitor analysis, I’ve identified several weaknesses we need to target. I have all the data and a deep-dive into areas that could use improvement.”
With this, you’re getting straight to the conclusion and giving enough information that the listener can ask follow-up questions. At this point, you can pause in case they have something to say. If they don’t jump in, you can begin breaking down the details.
Regardless of what you’re discussing with this person, start with the ending first.
Their Brain Processes Conversation Differently
For people who are neurodivergent, conversation pacing happens differently.
Whether it’s missing nonverbal cues from neurotypical speakers, taking longer to process and think through an answer, working memory deficits, or the desire to demonstrate connection and engagement, neurodivergent people, often interrupt or get interrupted.
Note: Neurodivergent usually refers to people on the spectrum (autism, Aspergers, etc.) or other people (ADHD) who have neurological functioning that isn’t considered typical. Neurotypical refers to anyone with normal neurological development.
Tips for Neurodivergents:
- Find out why you’re being interrupted. Ask a neurotypical friend to observe you in conversation and see if they can pick out what’s happening. Are there long pauses in your conversation that neurotypicals see as a cue to start talking? Are they rapport interrupting? Understanding what’s happening can help you feel less rejected or dismissed.
- Stand up for yourself. If you are constantly being interrupted, try saying, “Let me just finish my point.” or use the Preview Technique, so people know even if you pause after point 1, that point 2 is coming.
- Remember, you speak a different social language. You understand the nonverbals of other neurodivergents, but when it comes to communicating with neurotypicals, you speak a different language. When you interrupt, that doesn’t make you inferior to neurotypicals; it’s just a sign that you speak a different language.
- Apologize and encourage them to continue. If you realize you’ve just interrupted, pause and say, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you! Please keep going.”
Tips for Neurotypicals Speaking with Neurodivergents:
- Be patient. While you can’t always know if someone is neurodivergent, please have patience for people who seem unaware of nonverbals or other conversational cues. Their interrupting habit is not a sign of disrespect.
- Do unto others. You don’t like being interrupted, but many neurodivergents report being interrupted too! Some even feel this is a subtle bias. Please remember that neurodivergents are NOT less intelligent or lower in the social hierarchy.
- Skip the monologue. Because of how their brain processes and functions, neurodivergents do best with smaller bits of information. Give gaps in the conversation so they can respond to ideas as they come.
- Ask if they have something to say. Group conversations can be incredibly challenging. They may not know how or when to interject without interrupting, so they may say nothing. You can help pull them into the conversation by saying, “What do you think?” or, “Did you have anything to input on this?”. Then, give them space to think about it. It may take them a moment before they respond. If they don’t want to engage verbally, don’t push it.
- Roll with it. If you know someone is neurodivergent, don’t make a big deal if they interrupt. They are trying their best. Wouldn’t it be beautiful if you could meet them halfway?
“An estimated 15-20 percent of the world’s population exhibits some form of neurodivergence.”
Don’t Be Silenced
Regardless of why people interrupt you, you now have the tools to stand up for yourself and take back the conversation with elegance and politeness.
You have something to say that the world needs to hear. Keep moving forward, and don’t give up! It may take time to start implementing these techniques into your daily life. And yes, it will probably feel uncomfortable at first. Learning new skills always has a period of awkwardness and discomfort.
But we believe in you.
If being interrupted has left you feeling underestimated, check out Vanessa Van Edwards’s 11 Steps to Never Be Underestimated Again.