I am a recovering interrupter.
It pains me to admit that in my youth the temptation to blurt out my thoughts was too strong to fend off. While I don’t think it came out of a love of hearing my own voice (although I’m sure some coworkers and friends would disagree) as much as a panic that I might forget the idea I had in mind. Well, it was either that or my sudden burst of enthusiasm would make me lose all sense of social decorum.
Certainly there was an element of insecurity attached to this behavior, if I’m being totally honest (and I do try to be). I assumed that people thought I didn’t deserve to be in the room, which, regardless of whether or not it was the case, really had more to do with my own self-image than anything else. Besides, I shouldn’t be punishing coworkers for what I assume they’re thinking. What they think about me is none of my business—But I digress.
See? I even interrupt myself.
The point is that my habit of interrupting was born out of some sort of necessity in my past. It was a behavioral tick that at one point in my life may have kept me safe, or ensured some measure of success. It was no longer doing that. What once served me well as a comedian in a room full of comedians, was suddenly a liability.
And what is adulthood if not the sharp (and humiliating) realization that patterns of behavior that once helped you now do the opposite, and must be edited out of your repertoire?
Basically, my interrupting needed to stop ASAP.
It had earned me a complaint from a co-worker (a bitter pill to swallow) and done nothing except create an image of me as an obnoxious know-it-all, when I felt like the exact opposite.
So, how can you stop interrupting? And what are some of the tricks to stop being an interrupter, and start being a teammate?
Here are the steps I took to finally stop interrupting:
To Stop Interrupting, Take The Silence Challenge
The first thing I did was not talk at all at our next meeting. Not in a passive-aggressive way, I wasn’t refusing to answer questions or add my thoughts if someone inquired. I did, however, keep my mouth shut for a whole session, so I could fully monitor my inner life. When did I feel the urge to speak up out of turn the most? Why? What was happening inside that made me feel the need to jump in before someone was finished?
I took note of my emotions, and was able to answer a lot of questions. I discovered I had a real fear of the topic moving on before I could contribute to the idea. This was, of course, easily squashed by the logical side of my brain when I had assigned it as my emotional hall monitor. After all, I can always circle back to an idea after the fact. This helped calm any knee-jerk reactions I had, and leads to…
To Stop Interrupting, Wait Till The End
Once a discussion is wrapped up and the classic “Any final thoughts?” is asked, that’s when I allow myself to say what I need to. By then, I have filtered out a lot of the questions I had during our discussion, mostly because I allowed them to be answered naturally, or someone else had brought up the same concern.
Then I can ask a simple, “Could we circle back for a second?” and bring up any of the remaining thoughts that were left unanswered.
To Stop Interrupting, Use Pen And Paper
This was a marvelous revelation, and so mind-bogglingly simple that I’m embarrassed to admit I hadn’t thought of it earlier. I usually bring a pen and notepad to every meeting so I can take down notes of what is being said. Now I write down my own thoughts and ideas about what was being said. Simple? Yes. Effective? Completely.
By jotting down my questions, comments, or concerns, I effectively dispense with the fear that I’ll forget what I was thinking. (Note: You can perform this task on a laptop, but constant clickety-clacking might look like you’re distracted.)
To Stop Interrupting, Remind Yourself Of Where You Are
By this I mean both in terms of time and your value. You will have time to say what you need to in a meeting and if for whatever reason you don’t, you can bring questions up later with your teammates or supervisor. There is no urgency. Breathe.
In terms of your self-esteem, take a beat to remind yourself that you were hired for a reason. While it may not seem clear to you what that reason is, just know that companies are generally risk-averse, and they wouldn’t bet on someone they didn’t at least see great potential in.
Wherever you are today is leaps and bounds from where you were a day ago, a month ago, a year. And a year from now you will be further still. So focus on creating work you are proud of and let that speak for itself… Just try not to interrupt it.
“First, let me finish. Then interrupt.”―Brian Spellman