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Why People Interrupt Us

... and the best way to respond to the offense.

Key points

  • People don’t necessarily interrupt because they are bored. Many factors prompt people to talk across others.
  • For some, conversations are more dynamic and engaging when they move quickly and people talk over each other.
  • To confront someone who interrupts you, be assertive, but also understand what might lead to their behaviour.

You’re in the spotlight; telling a story you know will make people respond positively and put you in a good light. You’re getting across a point that you feel is really important, making a suggestion that will solve the problem you’re discussing or finally getting to share your thoughts after waiting patiently for your turn.

And then someone interrupts you, cutting across your flow and taking the conversation in a completely different direction.

How does that make you feel? And what do you do about it?

Interrupting people mid-flow is a constant irritation, particularly for those who find themselves stopped in their tracks, whether in a formal business meeting, at a networking event, or in a social situation. In research for her book What Do I Say Next, Susan RoAne identified being interrupted, whether it’s mid-thought or mid-sentence, as one of the top three conversation killers. It’s human nature to want to be heard, and we don’t like that opportunity taken away from us.

Are people who interrupt simply being rude, or are there other reasons they do so? And how can you respond if you’ve been cut off mid-anecdote?

Why Do People Interrupt Others?

An interruption is not necessarily an attempt to rescue the listeners from dying of boredom. It can be as much, if not more, about the interrupter than about the original speaker. A range of factors, including personality type, upbringing, home environment, gender, and culture can influence how people converse with others.

Social skills that many of us take for granted, including knowing when to interrupt somebody else, are not as clear-cut for neurodivergent people, such as those on the autism spectrum or having ADHD.

One of the symptoms of ADHD, for example, is a lack of impulse control. People with ADHD also have difficulty filtering irrelevant stimuli or even filtering their own thoughts from those of others, which means that they may be able to focus on a discussion for a few minutes before their attention switches. At that point, they may get the urge to interrupt or change the subject. They may even have become so distracted by something outside the conversation that they have forgotten what was being said and changed the subject without realising it.

People with short-term memory challenges may also find the need to interrupt, particularly if they have suddenly remembered something important or have a great idea and feel the need to share it straight away before they forget what they wanted to say.

Neurotypical people can get carried away with the ebb and flow of conversation in the same way, wanting to interrupt with a new idea or what they see as an exciting contribution to the discussion. In particular, while introverts want to listen carefully and digest other people’s comments before adding their own thoughts, extroverts have a genuine desire to move the conversation forward and build on what’s being said.

For many, a good conversation flows in different directions and different voices are not interrupting as much as keeping the dynamic and energy of the conversation high. When everyone speaks over each other, it demonstrates to some that everyone is engaged in the conversation, not ignoring what others have to say. Somebody who lives, or grew up, with a big family may well have this expectation of conversation.

It may be important for women to speak over others, particularly in a mixed-gender conversation. Joanna Wolfe of Carnegie Mellon University studies the role gender plays in communication and says, “Research has found that men are more likely than women to make intrusive interruptions that silence other speakers, and women are more likely to be the targets of these interruptions”. So, while it might feel frustrating to be interrupted, for women it might be the type of assertive behaviour they need to have their voice heard.

How Can You Respond?

You have choices to make if you are interrupted. You can let it go and follow the flow of the conversation, wait for your moment to come back to your point, or call out the behaviour immediately. The latter choice obviously risks conflict but might be necessary if you want your ideas to be taken seriously.

If you are aware of why people are interrupting you, it becomes easier to process. Understanding that it might not be a lack of interest in what you are saying but something else that motivates the other person may make it easier to accept.

But you shouldn’t necessarily just accept the interruption. Susan RoAne suggests, “If we say nothing, it gives silent approval to this behaviour. We also allow ourselves to be silenced.

“There are statements we can say—always calmly and politely; holding direct eye contact with the interrupter. For example, avoid asking the interrupter for permission. Instead of saying, 'May I continue?’, say, 'I want to finish my thought.' And then do it!”

Facebook/LinkedIn image: Irene Miller/Shutterstock


RoAne S. (1999). What Do I Say Next?: Talking Your Way to Business and Social Success. Grand Central Publishing.

Hughes L. (2023). ADHD communication hack: how to stop interrupting (and why we do it). Inflow: The ADHD Blog.

Wolfe J. (2012). Communication Styles in Engineering and Other Male Dominated Fields. Apply Research to Practice (ARP) Resources.

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