Interrupting Is More Harmful Than You Think

The benefits of waiting.

Posted Jan 29, 2021 | Reviewed by Gary Drevitch

Bartosz Kapka, Pixabay, public domain
Source: Bartosz Kapka, Pixabay, public domain

We all interrupt and know it’s only sometimes okay. But we may not realize how detrimental it can be:

  • You are more tense, feeling you need to be ready to jump in before even the person finishes.
  • You deny yourself a moment after they finish to gather your thoughts.
  • You lose the chance to hear something that could prove your counterpoint wrong.
  • You appear rude. Consciously or not, most people feel disrespected when not allowed to finish what they’re saying.  
  • You appear egotistical and seem to believe the other person is inferior. Interrupting implies that you deem your words more worthy than the remainder of what the other person has to say.
  • You appear uncontrolled. People will view you as not having the self-discipline to avoid being rude and egotistical.
  • You lose power. When people talk, they often worry about what you think. If you wait until they finish, indeed, wait a second after, their anxiety increases, which yields you more perceived power.

Objections

Despite the above, you might think that interrupting yields sufficient benefits to justify it. For example, “I’ll forget what I was going to say.”  Solution: Take a note, which is particularly easy in the virtual meetings so common amid the COVID restrictions. Where that’s not feasible, say one word to yourself that will remind you of the point you want to make.

“Interrupting shows that I understand. Romantic couples prize being able to finish each other’s sentences.” The benefit of that is outweighed by the liabilities. You can show that you understand the person by, after s/he finishes, responding thoughtfully. Interrupting isn’t required.

"I’ll seem too passive and disinterested.” Your body language conveys engagement and your responses to your conversation’s partner’s full statement will be better, making clear that you’re engaged. Of course, at times, moderate interrupting is fine. I'm merely issuing a caution against undue interrupting.

“Interrupting increases the conversation’s energy.” The benefits of that are dwarfed by the aforementioned disadvantages. Certainly, with people who you’re confident enjoy the high energy of an interruptive conversation, you can more often interrupt. But even then, the person will likely appreciate your letting him or her talk. Plus, you derive that benefit of being more relaxed and having another second to think about what they’ve said before speaking.

"Some people welcome being interrupted, like when they've gone off track." True but that's an exception. Don't let that rationalize your interrupting often.

"What if they go on a long rant and won't let you get a word in edgewise?" That's another example of a case in which interrupting is often justified. Just decide whether the benefit of interrupting outweighs the liability.

To do

The good news is that interruptus horribilis is curable.

Keep top-of-mind the main benefit you feel you’d derive from interrupting less often: Probably it’s one of the above, although possibly something else. A client today said, “Not interrupting will make me more promotable.”

After the person finishes an utterance, it's sometimes wise to wait a second before speaking: Say “One Mississippi” to yourself. That will ensure that the person doesn’t have more that s/he’s eager to say. Also, your waiting will make clear that you were listening and not just waiting for the person to finish so you could dispense your pearls. Plus, it gives you time to think. In just that one second, countless brain neurons fire.

The takeaway

Except in certain subcultures and work cultures—for example, Supreme Court justices interrupting the litigants—interrupting yields more liability than benefit. Fortunately, there’s no need to be perfect; an occasional interruption, especially a brief interjection without expecting your conversation partner to stop, like: “aha” or “good point," or to stop a chatterbox is fine. And, as mentioned, in some conversations, moderate interruption seems fine. But one of the more realistic ways to up your professional and personal game is to reduce how often you interrupt.

I read this aloud on YouTube.