Must stop interrupting everyone.
June 10, 2009 1:23 PM   Subscribe

Help me stop interrupting everyone when they're speaking!

I've always talked over people without realizing it, but after a few people (including my ex) pointed it out to me over the past few months I've become more and more aware that I interrupt people when they're in the middle of talking simply because I thought of something exciting or interesting to say - or at least that's how I perceive it.

I never seem to speak over people out of anger or aggression; often, I find myself interrupting people to ask questions or to offer support or to reinforce what they're saying. Crucially, I'm usually completely unaware of what I'm doing until someone seethes "let me finish!"

After I caught myself interrupting someone at a job interview - yeah, a job interview - I realized that I need some actual help figuring this out. This would also help my relationship with my mother, since we both talk over each other all the time and it drives us both insane.

General tips for being a better listener and not dominating conversations would also be appreciated. Thanks.
posted by Muffpub to Grab Bag (21 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
I have the exact same problem, and over the last few years have worked hard to battle it. The best tool I've come up with is to actually count to 5 in my head after someone finishes speaking. During this time, I am NOT allowed to talk. It helps me stop stepping on the ends of conversations and keeps me focused and in the present enough to actually listen to what is being said. Good luck!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:26 PM on June 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

The fact that you are consciously thinking about this problem is good. I don't have any particular tips or tricks, but I just try very hard to make myself shut up and actually listen to what the other person has to say. It's like not eating the twinkie that's right in front of you - it simply takes a conscious effort of will to avoid interrupting people. Light Fantastic's idea sounds good.

One other thing I will do is that if I catch myself interrupting someone and can't stop myself, or if we both start talking at the same time and I "win," as soon as I'm done, I'll say, "Susie, you were about to say something?" I think (hope?) that makes people feel like you are respecting what they have to say, even if you trod a little roughly just a moment before. Don't view this as some sort of cure-all that makes it "okay" if you interrupt constantly - just a helpful recovery technique in case you can't restrain yourself. (And nobody's perfect.)
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 1:31 PM on June 10, 2009

Remind yourself of this simple rule: if their mouth is open, yours is closed. No matter what.*

*once you've gotten the hang of polite conversation, you can probably break this rule now and then without being rude, but until then: Their mouth open = your mouth closed.
posted by katillathehun at 1:31 PM on June 10, 2009 [6 favorites]

One key to this is to change the way you view conversation. Try to think of it as primarily a form of listening. Right now, it seems that, for you, conversation is kind of like the front page of Metafilter: it's all about pointing out to the world, "Hey, look at this cool thing I found!"

As an exercise, the next time you have a conversation with someone you tend to talk over, resolve to only do two things: 1) Listen. 2) Give responses that invite more information from the person to whom you are listening. Often, such responses will be questions, but they certainly don't need to be questions exclusively.

For the time being, while you're working on this, if you think "Hey, I can tell them about Cool Thing X!" hold that thought, rather than just spitting it out. Think about it: will talking about Cool Thing X invite more information from your interlocutor? Does it engage them? If it does, wait until they've finished speaking, and, if it's still relevant, you can bring it up then.

Changing this is going to involve a lot of mindfulness.
posted by ocherdraco at 1:32 PM on June 10, 2009 [4 favorites]

this is easy to solve when in a professional environment - say a meeting or a job interview. grab a piece of paper and write down a few pointers that help you remember what you wanted to say. you are not interrupting because you don't want to listen to them, you are interrupting because you are secretly afraid you'd otherwise forget your point or it would get lost because the conversation had moved on. once the other person has finished, go through your points one-by-one. they will most likely cease opening up multiple topics at once with you, which is nice, too.

don't carry in a block since that says you expected to be the lowly notetaker. you just started jotting things down because you noticed they have something interesting to say. you are making them a compliment - this conversation has quality to it - and they will be curious what those little things mean. they often will ask you about them. consider starting your replies to that with something akin to "well, you just said x and that reminded me of y" - referencing their argument before you attach your response.

the question is not how to win an argument. it's how to win someone over. huge difference.
posted by krautland at 1:34 PM on June 10, 2009

I have this problem, too. I think one thing to be aware of is that even if you don't see it as aggressive, many other people do. Actually, even if you're interrupting to agree, there's a bit of aggression in there, too - you're basically giving the other person the message that it's more important for you to show you agree than for them to finish. Also, if someone's not done speaking, you might not get the entire message.

One thing that's helped me is to focus on letting someone completely finish a sentence, wait a beat, and then talk. This can feel a little awkward, and isn't always appropriate, but it's a good habit to get into.

You could also enlist a few loved ones - good friends, family members - to point it out to you every time you interrupt them. Any time, not just when it irritates them. This should help you be more aware.
posted by lunasol at 1:35 PM on June 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

I do this too -- to the point of not even finishing reading your post before leaping to respond to it. I made myself go back and read it all the way through.

I'd like to say that being aware of the problem is a good step towards resolving it, but I've been aware of my own problem for several years and I don't think I've gotten any better at it. Interested to see your replies.
posted by stennieville at 1:38 PM on June 10, 2009

I am a chronic interrupter. I try to refrain, but every once in a while I get excited and just blurt something out when someone else is talking. Luckily it usually happens with close friends and not on job interviews. :) If I realize I've just interrupted, I immediately stop and say "I'm sorry, I just interrupted you! Please continue." It may seem awkward but I find it really smooths the conversation back again to whomever was speaking originally.
posted by emd3737 at 1:39 PM on June 10, 2009

you might want to consider letting people know you are working to change this tendency, and ask them to let you know when you interrupt them.
posted by HuronBob at 1:40 PM on June 10, 2009

Focus on listening. Listening is an act of love.

If you are mindful and attentive toward your conversational partner, you'll be a better communicator in the long run. Really focus on what they are saying and stop thinking about how you are going to respond - pretend whatever they are saying (even if its a recounting of their latest boring ass TPS report) is tremendously important and you want to hear every nuance of it.
posted by RajahKing at 1:41 PM on June 10, 2009

If you ask your friends to help, maybe they can use a little hand gesture that means " hold on, I'm not done yet" that way they can let you know to wait a little without having to stop what they were talking about. Actually, I think I should start doing this with my boyfriend, because we cut each other off all the time.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:55 PM on June 10, 2009

I have/had this habit. One thing that helped during the "learning to keep my mouth shut until the other person is actually done speaking" was to learn to hand the conversation back. "I interrupted you--you were talking about your trip to Chicago..."

Oh, look, people already mentioned that up-thread. It's a good idea, though. I have actually had people say they really appreciate me doing that. As someone else said, it's not the cure, but it will contain the damage somewhat.
posted by not that girl at 2:05 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

I said this once before here on metafilter, but I'll say it again because I really believe it works.

Wear a watch.

Every time you catch yourself interrupting someone, take the watch off and put it on the other arm. "But I wouldn't wear a watch on my right arm!" EXACTLY! The process of taking off the watch and then putting it back on will grow old fast. And then, much like Pavlov's dog, you'll build an association. To you, interrupting will become a hassle. You'll teach yourself not to do it.

Good luck!
posted by 2oh1 at 2:19 PM on June 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is very much my bad habit too. I find it helps tremendously to a) focus on what the other person is saying, and b) STOP if I find myself composing a reply in my head while they're still speaking.

On the whole, interrupting means you've (I've) stopped listening and want to say your bit. So I make sure I keep listening and don't let myself compose my bit to say too early.
posted by Billegible at 7:58 PM on June 10, 2009

Do you come from a big family? I ask because I do this too, and I come from a big family of passionate, outspoken people, and everyone talks over everyone all the time. So, for me this was just a normal way of interacting.

If you're aware that you do it, then you're halfway there already.
posted by weesha at 8:06 PM on June 10, 2009

I do this to. What helps me most is to tell my friends/ family that I am aware that I interrupt too much, and ask their help in gently reminding me when I am interrupting. Then, I interrupt, the point it out, I stop talking and let them finish. It helps build good habits.
posted by insectosaurus at 10:27 PM on June 10, 2009

I'm another unconscious interrupter, but I think my problem stems from my perpetual forgetfullness- if I don't say something as soon as I think it, it's gone. I like krautland's suggestion of jotting down notes during the conversation, but I think you can do it with friends, too. Use some scratch paper and write without looking at the paper. The time it takes you to do it will allow the person to finish, and it shouldn't take too much of your focus away from the conversation.
posted by alygator at 10:38 PM on June 10, 2009

I have been guilty of this often because I am afraid that I will forget that 'perfect' thing to say when its my turn...yet somehow if I never get to say my perfect thing, the world still goes on. I have developed the habit of putting my index and middle finger over my mouth when someone else is talking and that has helped me.
posted by CodeMonkey at 6:06 AM on June 11, 2009

If you are mindful and attentive toward your conversational partner, you'll be a better communicator in the long run. Really focus on what they are saying and stop thinking about how you are going to respond - pretend whatever they are saying ... is tremendously important and you want to hear every nuance of it.

Go farther with this thought. Focus not only on what they're saying, but try to understand why they are saying it. Really do your best to put yourself in their shoes. What do they hope to get out of this interaction? How could they "win" this interaction? How can you help them "win"? How can you act in such a way that they feel better about themselves?

Also consider how they are saying it. Notice their body language and other subcommunication. They say 70% of communication is non-verbal. Are you paying attention? Does he make good eye contact? Or is he darty? Is he arrogant? Why would that be? Is he distracted by the gorgeous girl to your left? Oblivious? Or does he notice her but not care? What does that say about him? Is he playing with his wedding ring? Why is he wearing a wrinkly shirt? Really get in his head... inside your own head.

And before you speak, think: Would this person care about what I'm about to say? Would he find this story I'm about to tell genuinely interesting? Or am I just telling it to try to impress them and boost my own ego? (And, by comparison, make them feel lesser?) How would I feel if somebody told me what I'm about to tell him?

I've found that a lot of the interrupt-interrupt-interrupt instinct is just an effort to impress the other person. What would this say about you? What would think about somebody who is clearly trying to impress you?

Focus on your partner, his communication, subcommunication, motivations, mindset, & emotional state. There's sooooo much information flooding out that if you're attuned to it, you won't have the spare bandwidth to interrupt. At least that's what works for me.
posted by LordSludge at 9:15 AM on June 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

you won't have the spare bandwidth to interrupt.

Upon reflection, this isn't quite right... It's more that as you get better at seeing the world from the other person's perspective, you better realize IN THE MOMENT (as opposed to after the fact) that interrupting usually makes you look like a total dick.
posted by LordSludge at 2:00 PM on June 11, 2009

Thanks everyone. Good insights all around!
posted by Muffpub at 10:20 AM on June 17, 2009

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