Don’t interrupt me!

We all bring habits formed in childhood to work with us, some helpful, others not! Interrupting can be one of the most dangerous to your career. Whether you like it or not, when you interrupt someone, you are sending one or more of the following messages:

  1. my time is more valuable than yours
  2. you don’t know what you’re talking about
  3. what you are saying is unimportant
  4. I want to be in control
  5. I’m impatient
  6. I’m not a listener
  7. my emotional control is limited
  8. my situational awareness is limited
  9. my potential is limited
  10. it’s all about me

speedbump for the mouthYes, there are times when it’s appropriate to interrupt. In many circumstances, it may be perfectly reasonable for your boss to interrupt you for reasons one through five.

But, it’s not okay for you to interrupt your boss, a customer, or a hiring manager in a job search interview for any of those reasons.

Yes, some people talk a lot. Sometimes you need to interrupt to do your job. Practice interrupting politely. Say the person’s name, reflect back what you just heard and then move the conversation in a new direction. For example:

“Santa, I hear you saying that we need to build more Jack-in-the-Box’s  because kids love them — and I want to… but the thing is, we need more little metal boxes, so if you can help us find more we’ll get right on it!”

When you can do this skillfully and your situational awareness is high, then by all means, interrupt when necessary. Just make sure you know when and why you interrupt, that you are choosing to do so instead of interrupting habitually and/or for the wrong reasons. Know yourself, know the risks and balance them.

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  • Jennifer Chavez

    I really appreciated the lesson on Networking. I’ve always felt insufficient in this area. Listening though, this is the simple yet complicated to find answer I had been looking for. Too many time I find my self purposelessly interrupting others while they talk. I’ve always thought it to be “helpful interruptions”such as the agreeing nod of my head, or the smalls sentences to voice my agreement. This whole time I thought I was helping and yet it seems as though I was more pushing the speaker in the other way. So from here out I commit to practice truly listening, not going over what I’m going to say when they proposition me with a question, not wondering if they approve of my attire, but actually listening.
    Thank you Eric Shannon for your advice.

  • Zoe

    I wholeheartedly agree that one accomplishes much more by listening than by interrupting, and that when interrupting is necessary it must be done politely.

    I’ve learned this lesson by working as a student caller at my university, where I make phone calls to alumni and friends of the university and ask them to donate to the school.

    I always begin the phone conversations with rapport, and I’ve found that I have the best conversations when i let the prospect talk about himself or herself without interruption. I also sometimes reiterate what they say to show that I am listening.

    Even when people tell me their complaints about the university, which are not under my control, it is still important that I listen to what they have to say. Sometimes, when the complaints turn into a rant, I have to find a way to tactfully interrupt while still letting them know that I’ve been listening.

    This practice is also important when I ask for pledges, because when I receive objections to the initial amount I ask for, I must pay attention to what their specific objections are so I can let them know that I understand and can find alternative payment options that may be more doable for them.

  • alansgirl

    I have to watch myself in this category. It’s not that I am trying to be rude to people, it’s just my brain runs really fast and I tend to finish peoples thoughts because I am trying to speed things up. I know that sound rude too, but since I am aware that I do this I can keep the interrupting to a minimum.

  • I always seem to thinking people are done speaking so I speak up and
    then I get told that I interrupted them. It’s a vicious cycle. I have a need to explain myself. Honestly, for me, it helps me understand where I went wrong and talking it out loud is also my way of communicating my misunderstanding. Unfortunately this action comes across to my supervisors as being defensive and not wanting to accept feedback. Which of course is not the case at all, I never say that I’m not accepting it. I always reiterate what I have been told after explaining where I went wrong. It’s my downfall when I’m at work, only.

  • Shay

    I do interrupt my boss sometimes. He tends to repeat the same things over and over again and then reproach me for making him repeat himself. So, when I dare to interrupt, it’s to finish his sentence. For me it’s a mean to say “I got you”.

  • Renee Angle

    Nothing is more tiresome than an employee who interrupts. As a management professional for more than 15 years, I know I appreciated and valued those employees who were polite and patient. The employees who consistently interrupted were often labeled by management as not being team players. The understanding in business is time is money. Workers should listen, understand, and be ready to work toward the goal. Often letting the speaker finish will answer the questions one might have.
    As a current education major, I bring my business experience to the classroom and hope to educate the next generation in not only content areas but skills to create productive citizens. Learning not to interrupt should begin at home and be reinforced in the classroom so the next generation of employees will know and not have to learn the value of listening without interrupting.

  • heyitsme

    I have found that you can very easily stop a person in mid sentence by handing them something to look at or asking them a question or both. these are interruptions in the most technical sense but they are often not received that way.

  • Drew Shupe

    Before I went to college, I worked a total of four years at an industrial recycling company. The boss I had expected a lot of us even though we were just high school kids. He expected us to work as hard, fast, and efficiently as possible with the mentality that after finishing one trying task, we were to immediately ask him for another job to do. To put it lightly, we had our “noses to the grind-stone.”

    However, he appreciated our work very little and even the slightest of interruptions received a vicious scolding. Although this did not make working for him very pleasant, it taught me that you are not always going to work with people you like and that your boss may not always be the nicest or most understanding, but sometimes, you just need to suck it up because its you or job and a smart mouth or poor attitude won’t get you very far in the work force.

  • I can definitly relate to this because in a previous position, I had a very long winded boss. I remember one specific time he was telling me about the week coming up, some work related and some not. At the same time, I had my hands full of files and notes, the phone was ringing off the hook and there was a client waiting in the lobby. AHHH! I just wanted to scream “SHUT UP” but of course I didn’t. During a pause, I said “Sir, can we continue this in a moment? I need to get the phone”. He didn’t seem to mind because I was ending the conversation to get back to work. In retrospect, I can’t think of a better way to handle that situation. I think it’s all about tone and timing.

  • Julia

    Although I don’t have much work experience, this is a rule that I’ve been taught by multiple people. Interrupting people, especially your bosses, just shows a lack of professionalism and respect.

  • Hollow77

    I recently just started a new job so this advice really does come in handy. Personally, I like to learn as much about the company as I can or whatever I am working on before I even ask questions, or let alone take it to my boss. It shows your employer that you can be independent. However, as a last resort I may turn to my boss if I have exhausted all my other options. It is also important to know when is the right time to interrupt. If your boss is super busy or the situation isn’t a dire emergency then I wait until the perfect opportunity presents itself. And always remember to be polite and respectful, because remember you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

  • Just a few months ago I learned that when at my place of employment, I rarely interrupt, but when at home I interrupt constantly. This not only annoys my mother and uncle to no end, but also seems to get me into alot more trouble than necessary, complicating the situations we’re in and the decisions that are needing to be made.

    Because of how well not interrupting had worked for me at my job, I decided to make an attempt to do the same when at home. The difference was phenomenal and I plan on continuing my change in attitude for the duration of my years.

    *PS: This cartoon is hilarious!!!

  • luizbc92

    It’s hard for someone who has never worked before to grasp the skills required for working. But the most important skill in any work is listening. One has to know to listen to their superior and obey them, to a certain limit. Why do I say to a certain limit? One’s job is to follow and obey every instruction given by their boss, however what sets you apart from being a clerk, to stepping up in the ladder is to have the initiative to improve the work you’re given, and suggest manners to do so. But it has to be done in a polite manner as described in this lesson.

  • drummin32

    I am pretty go with not interrupting a person when in conversation, but many like to interrupt me. I am a quiet person, who tend to do the job without much communication. There is a coworker that is horrible with this, and with his interruptions he talks as if he knows anything about everything. It is amazing that he has gotten this far, since his dad owns the company. It had gotten to the point were one time his dad came out to where we were working and simply said “you talk just like you mother, just keep on talking”. While the owner was trying to say this he interrupted and still to this day does not get what he meant because he missed the communication.

  • dekeyg93

    My neices are terrible about interrupting. They walk up to an adult conversation and scream someone’s name until they get a response. They interrupt each other and ignore what the other has to say. They interrupt their mother when she explains something to them and every time it ends with an irritated adult and a child who learned nothing from their question. But this is only a childish thing to do, right? Something only a child would do, right? Wrong. Interruption occurs far too often.
    Interrupting is the quickest way to show someone that you don’t care about what they have to say. In any work enviroment, you cannot work as a one man show. There is very little opportunity to work alone and it would be unwise to do so, anyway. To be able to work with your team of coworkers, share and improve ideas, and improve your work enviroment is as necessary as the air we breath. In an ever changing and fast paced world, sharing ideas and working as a team is the best option, like that phrase “two heads are better than one”. So, slow down and listen to the people around you. They were, after all, hired because they’re qualified and your employer sees potential in them as well as you. Utilize the minds that surround you and pick their brains. Bounce ideas off of them and listen to their responses. If you wait contently it will not go unnoticed. Listening is something every person needs and respects. If you don’t interrupt your co-workers or your boss they will value you more and most likely involve you in the opportunities they encounter. To not interrupt is a trait envied by many and shows control and patience, making yourself more valuable to your company and your friends.

  • TamiJane

    This is something that I’ve needed to work on for some time. You made a lot of very good points and may have helped me in my journey for improvement in this area. After reading this it really made me think of how I am perceived at times in my career. I have tended to have a very boisterous personality and at times can get carried away at inappropriate times and with the wrong people.

  • gabrielle

    Though this is a simple concept, I feel that its so simple that some forget while in the work atmosphere. Speaking and listening is a give and take relationship, but more often then not while listening to those who have superiority over us it is the more respected action to take. What I have realized over the years is that even outside the workplace it is more valued to listen to others. The more intellectual individuals keep all ears open and let others talk. You take in more and become more knowledgable about everything. Even if you have no experience in the 9 to 5 world, this is the best quality an employee can posses and reflects upon our social skills, which in my opinion outweigh almost everything.

  • Grote219

    I am new in the workplace and I don’t have much experience, but already I have heard this advice from multiple sources.  In a Career Management course I took last year, one our speakers was a huge advocate of the “no interruption” policy.  While she was speaking about her career, and the various steps it took her to get where she is, she kept on being interrupted by one of students.  This student asked question after question, not allowing the speaker any time to respond.  The speaker finally said enough, and began explaining to the student how, as a manager, she hates when people interrupt her.  She says “interrupting someone is like giving yourself a one way ticket out of the company.” 

    As a student observing this, I really believed that the student thought she was more important than the speaker.  Seeing this situation in action and now thinking back to it, I would never want to be that student, or that employee, who constantly interrupts others.  I definitely take this advice to heart. 

    • “She says “interrupting someone is like giving yourself a one way ticket out of the company.” 

      love it! thanks for sharing.

  • KAufenkamp

    There is an employee at work that likes to be in control of everything the only problem is she’s an associate and I am a manager.  She likes to interupt you when you are trying to explain something.

    One time I had a customer ask me for directions and I was in the middle of giving the directions when this employee started shouting from the other side of the store the exact directions I was giving the customer.  I then stopped talking and let her finish and when she was done and the customer was gone I had to pull her aside and explain how rude that was to me and to the customer.

  • Holmes_mom_2

    I don’t like to be interrupted when trying to get my point across. Generally when this happens I will wait for another opportunity to say what is on my mind. 

  • Scollaqi

    I experienced this first hand in a daycare I worked in when younger. The kids were constantly coming to me with statements or questions. Most of the time I would interrupt them to get them to do what I needed them to do for the day. Of course, that wasn’t working so I decided to keep my mouth shut and listen for a change!

    After a while of biting my tounge and listening I learned a lot about the children and their thinking process. I learned a lot about myself and helped me with when I had my own children. Sometimes it’s best to listen than interrupt the one’s around us!

  • Micaiah

    When I first started working in the Construction Field, my boss was a very high strung Contractor.  He built cabinets in addition to building and remodeling houses, so he was always busy.  I first started the job around the time I turned twenty-one.  I was apprenticed into installing and finishing cabinets and was expected to continue apprenticing for at least a year. 

    Six months later my “master installer” up and quit leaving my boss, with only me to install cabinets.  I thought it would not be an issue moving up, into a journey man position until I learned the trade fairly well, and could install cabinets with no directions or help.  Instead I constantly found myself on the trouble end of a stick and constantly interrupting my boss as he yelled at me. 

    The interruptions I did were filled with excuses as to why I made a mistake or why the home owners felt I made a mistake.  For two years this went on back and forth with my boss, his favorite thing to say was “A dollar waiting on a dime and sometimes my dime was not worth the metal it was made on”, as if I did not know his time was more important. 

    After two years of him yelling at me and me interrupting him to get an excuse in I said enough is enough.  I knew he would never stop yelling at me so I started to own up to my mistakes.  Rather than think I could hide my mistakes I made decisions to call him first and let him know what happened, and then give him my thoughts on possible solutions that could be done right away rather then later.  For the next six years things went smoothly and I never had a need to interrupt him for an excuse. 

    Since then I find myself able to control conversations a little better and have fewer and fewer needs to interrupt, of course there is always the few people you simply have to interrupt or the conversation never goes anywhere, but those people when interrupted correctly can be steered in any direction.

  • ozovehe odidi

    Interrupting someone who is talking is disrespectful. I get tired when the other party keeps doing the talking and expect no interruption.

  • Randalltmaj

    I used to be guilty of interrupting, used to…I know know that I suffer from Adult ADHD. Lucky for me I have found a wonderful doctor that has cured my interrupting syndrome!

  • Brydonaldson3

    When I was in a interview the hiring manager interrupted me on almost of everyone of my answer moving on with the interview, yes it seemed as the hiring manager was being extremely rude, however I did not lose my composure and eventually was hired for the job.

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About the author

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In 1997, Eric Shannon launched the first job board for bilinguals who speak English/Spanish at LatPro.com. Eric still serves as CEO of LatPro Inc., developer of JustJobs.com. He lives in Boulder, CO with his wife and two girls.

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