I'm not really a jackass. Just helpfully eager!
June 25, 2010 8:39 AM   Subscribe

Help me stop interrupting people while they're speaking, even though I already know what they're going to say.

I seem to have a generally good sense of what others are trying to say, even when they can't find the words themselves. And so, over my lifetime, I've developed the habit of interjecting what I believe others are trying to say when they start to stumble. I hate when others do this to me and I try not to do it when I'm conscious that it's happening (say with a frequent stutterer or something). But I rarely seem to notice I'm doing it until it's too late and I've already interrupted the other person. Are there any tips or tricks you have used to stop yourself from blurting out the words before others even have a chance to finish?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have close friends with whom you speak more often than other people and don't feel self-conscious with? Ask them to help condition you to stop. Whenever you and they are in conversation in a relatively private setting -- as opposed to a place where you will feel embarrassed in front of strangers -- ask them to interrupt you when you interrupt them. It doesn't have to be verbal. They can put their hand on your shoulder or snap or clap or do knock on the table every time you interrupt them. You'll feel naturally self-conscious about the noise and associate it with interrupting them and, hopefully, stop doing it.
posted by griphus at 8:45 AM on June 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Similar to Greg Nog: Talk in your head to yourself. Say "I'm listening, I'm listening, I'm not speaking, I'm not speaking, I'm listening. " I have had this problem, too, and self-monitoring is key in situations where you're just meeting new people/at work/who knows where.
posted by scclads at 8:47 AM on June 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I do this, it's a pain. My family and a lot of my old friends are sort of used to it or that's just the way we talk anyhow [I grew up in a loud talky family where everyone talked over each other's sentences]. If I'm trying not to do it, especially with someone who is slower to compose their thoughts, I often tell them it's something I'm struggling with so they know I'm aware of it and am trying to work on it. So they'll be like "And then, the next time the nuthatches came to the feeder..." and I'll be like "Oh I LOVE baby nuthatches. Oh, I'm sorry. I've been trying to work on my rude interruptions. Please continue..." Between that and counting to ten I've been able to mostly keep a lid on it.
posted by jessamyn at 8:51 AM on June 25, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm also TERRIBLE for this. When I am working on it, I try to talk to *myself* in my head instead of out loud while they're talking, telling myself to keep quiet, listen, and wait my turn.
Active listening helps - instead of jumping ahead to the conclusion of their thought, really listen to each of their words. I've also taken to using the extra attention span to read more info from their body language, which is interesting enough to distract my inner leaper-aheader but still keeps me focused on the other person.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 8:51 AM on June 25, 2010

I used to be a chronic interrupter. I'm still not great about it, but one thing that really, really helped is a tip I learned from a boss at a job where it was really important to not interrupt people: when you're talking with someone, wait until they are done with what they are saying, then wait a beat, and then speak.

Of course, to do this you need to be conscious of the fact that you're about to interrupt someone for this to work. I'm sure someone else will pop in with better tips for that, but I would suggest just trying to be hyper-vigilant about this issue for the next month or so. And use this or whatever trick when you can. I bet if you make a conscious effort to hold your tongue until the other person is clearly done, you'll find yourself becoming more aware of an impending interruption before it happens and interrupting less and less.
posted by lunasol at 8:51 AM on June 25, 2010

Oh man. Been working on this myself. Podcasting has helped. Maybe pretend you're interviewing them and you need good uninterrupted tape? Pretend you're trying to get a good story out of them and that your voice breaks the flow of a story you're trying to get from them. The next time you feel that really look at it. Just shining the cold light of day on that interrupty impulse tells you a lot about why it's there, for me it's a slightly destructive need to be the smartest person in the room, or for the other person to see me as smart or clever. What's working really well to keep me in practice is the result I get when I remember not to interrupt. I find I didn't know what they were going to say, and what they were going to say is ten times BETTER, or way more nuanced. Also slightly OT but if you just keep staring at quiet people they say fascinating shit. You just gotta give 'em room to breathe.
posted by edbles at 8:53 AM on June 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm working with a fellow (younger; an undergrad) who does this, except he's often/usually wrong about the words I'm looking for, and sometimes about the whole concept. At the very least, I was usually going to phrase it better.

I would perhaps keep in mind that, No, you don't know what the person is about to say. You might be correct, but know that you've interrupted, you'll never know, will you?

Think of it as a possible missed opportunity.
posted by supercres at 8:58 AM on June 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

You assume that people talk only to make points for the sake of the other person's understanding, as in a logical argument. You assume that we talk for the sake of communication itself, not for the purpose of communicating our selves to another. If you interrupt them, no matter how on the money you might be in terms of the words they need or the abstract point they might be wanting to make, you are having a one-sided conversation, and denying the person you are talking to the same satisfaction that you want for yourself. So - look at conversations not solely as about purpose but also about needs. Which are individual to each speaker.

You already know that interrupting others is wrong, self-centered and counterproductive to communicating with them. Just try to remember why. This is more a bad habit than anything, and like any habit it will just take awareness and trying again and again till you can resist the impulse more successfully. My recommendation is to pay attention to the person, rather than just to what he or she is saying.

And when you say you don't notice until it's too late - do you mean it's too late to apologize and let them speak? I doubt that it is.
posted by mondaygreens at 9:04 AM on June 25, 2010 [11 favorites]

Ugh, I have the same problem. I find that it tends to happen more with some people than others, usually people who talk slowly and don't get to the point. I've found that it helps a little if, before speaking to those particular people, I explicitly remind myself that I need to resist the urge to jump in. (Plus, thinking don't interrupt don't interrupt don't interrupt gives me something else to focus on when the speaker has already made their point six times or given away the end of the story but is clearly going to keep talking for another five minutes.)
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 9:08 AM on June 25, 2010

I do this sometimes, and hate myself for it, because yeah, it's horribly rude.

It sometimes helps if I spend the time planning my next response more carefully than I otherwise might.
posted by rokusan at 9:13 AM on June 25, 2010

In addition to the self-talk tips above, try a physical one - press your lips together and concentrate on the fact that they are closed and should not be opened.
posted by CathyG at 9:13 AM on June 25, 2010

Also, when you do forget, and interrupt, say out loud, "I'm sorry I interrupted you."

This has been my best tool for dealing with this. I seem to have more trouble controlling the impulse to jump in than I do saying, "I'm sorry, I interrupted, you were telling me about..." I have actually been complimented on my tendency to return the conversation to someone else after an interruption. It fools people into thinking I am thoughtful, attentive to others' needs, and a good listener instead of an annoying interrupting blowhard!
posted by not that girl at 9:16 AM on June 25, 2010 [5 favorites]

If I'm trying not to do it, especially with someone who is slower to compose their thoughts, I often tell them it's something I'm struggling with so they know I'm aware of it and am trying to work on it. So they'll be like "And then, the next time the nuthatches came to the feeder..." and I'll be like "Oh I LOVE baby nuthatches. Oh, I'm sorry. I've been trying to work on my rude interruptions. Please continue..."

This is how I handle it, too. I am ridiculously prone to enthusiastic tangents.

If I physically cannot stop myself and the conversation veers because of my cheerful outburst, I do make sure to mentally bookmark the previous train of thought so that I can at least offer "oh my god, I'm sorry, I got us off on a tangent. I'll shut up now, you were telling me that the next time the baby nuthatches came to the feeder you were...."
posted by desuetude at 9:36 AM on June 25, 2010

OTOH, there are people who will NEVER come to the point and who will talk in circles until you interrupt them and direct their thoughts. Sometimes, this is unfair to you (time management) and sometimes unfair to the ten people in line (metaphorically or literally) behind them.

Hate to be an enabler, but it's true.

I do think there's a time to jump in...

them: "... so the cat's leg became infected as a result and the humane shelter wouldn't take him until that cleared up and..."

you: "how many of the smoothies did you want?"

them: (blinks) "three. So we tried this thing where we asked some internet site what to do about it, and we were told that they now had these bionic..."

you: (make three smoothies while pretending to listen. Nod occasionally.)
posted by randomkeystrike at 9:39 AM on June 25, 2010

If you are like a colleague, then sorry, you are coming across as a jackass. MondayGreens has several valid points; and whether you are right or wrong with the point of your interruptions, the larger issue is devaluing the viewpoint of the person you are interrupting.

More often than not my colleague is off-base and comes across as just needing to hear themselves speak. Whether one on one or in a group setting this puts people off and is not team oriented.

Value other people and listen, you should expect the same in return.
posted by fluffycreature at 9:39 AM on June 25, 2010

I do think there's a time to jump in...

That's legitimate interruption, not finishing another person's sentence. Much less annoying, when called for.
posted by supercres at 9:50 AM on June 25, 2010

I've got a friend I really respect, and spending time with her has helped me with this problem. I enjoy talking with her so much that--well, there's the fact that it really burns me up when I do interrupt her, and that made me mad at me. But also, I spend the conversation just really appreciating that we're talking. So I focus on what she's saying--even if she's going slow, or I (think I) know what she's going to say, or I have no interest whatsoever in the topic. She does the same for me; it's only considerate to return the courtesy she gives me.

After all, what am I going to gain by interrupting? Am I in a hurry of some kind? Am I going to lose anything by letting her finish? Is this a conversation or a contest?
posted by galadriel at 9:51 AM on June 25, 2010

For me, it helps to remember how very, very rude it comes off as. I mean, yes, maybe I do know exactly what the person is saying, and maybe the person is, in fact, taking an inordinately long time to come to his point. Maybe the person is stumbling, or repeating himself. Maybe I am in a hurry.

But still--the other party will think you very, very rude for the interruption. Now, maybe, like randomkeystrike says, the person is being directly or indirectly rude to you, or someone else, and you decide to cut him off, anyway. But, for me, an awareness of how I appear to others has helped a great deal.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:10 AM on June 25, 2010

But I rarely seem to notice I'm doing it until it's too late and I've already interrupted the other person.

It's never too late. If you correct yourself ("I'm sorry, I interrupted, please continue...") then chances are that next time you will catch yourself sooner, and sooner, and so on, until you're catching it before you open your mouth.
posted by anaelith at 10:16 AM on June 25, 2010

People "stumbling" is just what happens when people are translating their thoughts into words. If you interject when they stumble, then maybe you simply don't want them to get better at it.
posted by rhizome at 10:25 AM on June 25, 2010

I try to use such times to fully polish my response. I might have responded well normally, but now that I know what they're going to say? I can deliver a well-oiled machine of a next sentence.
posted by redsparkler at 10:47 AM on June 25, 2010

Stay present and mindful. Pay attention to your breathing. Instead of reacting, wait until it's your turn and then act.
posted by callmejay at 11:36 AM on June 25, 2010

I don't mind when I'm REALLY struggling to find a word and someone provides it, but what I really hate is when people try to finish every sentence I say and just end up talking over me. Is it the latter or the former? Or is it that you're interrupting to tell your own story?

1) "And then, the next time the nuthatches came to the... the... the..."
"Feeder, yes, thanks."

2) "And then, the next time the nuthatches came to the feeder..."
(simultaneously) "... came to the feeder."
"I'm sorry, did YOU want to tell this story?"

3) "And then, the next time the nuthatches came to the feeder..."
"So anyway, the nuthatches were at the feeder..."

I don't think a word contributed here or there (#1) is that annoying, but if people are constantly trying to predict where my sentence is going (#2), it's one of those things that you CAN'T UNNOTICE once you've noticed it's going on, and it will drive me crazy until I find a way to remove that person from my life. #3 is actually less annoying to me than #2 because you can just interrupt the person right back or realize that they weren't that interested in the nuthatch story to start with, and give up.

When I read the original post, I thought you were talking about #2, but it looks like most of the commenters are addressing #3.
posted by srah at 11:50 AM on June 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Keep in mind the more you interrupt someone, the more likely they are to try to fill space to try to hold their ground in the conversation. If someone knows they are going to be able to get a thought out, they are less likely to try to prevent your from getting a word in.
posted by alikins at 12:27 PM on June 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Great advice you're getting here. The only thing I'd add (as a formerly chronic interrupter because yep, I was thinking, "I know, I know; get to the point already!") is try to keep on a game face.

I've been called out by friends for having an impatient expression even though my mouth was shut.
posted by dzaz at 1:11 PM on June 25, 2010

I try to use non-verbal means to channel the urge to blurt something out. I find I'll fold my hands together, gently and discreetly tap my fingers together (not repetitively or rhythmically) or if I feel that my interjection is absolutely vital, I will try the time-honored classroom way (lots of school teachers in my family!!) by raising an index finger and give a knowing look that I am prepared to interject, without verbally indicating this.

The fact that you're aware you do this, frankly, is half the battle. I married into a family that does nothing but talk over people and blurt stuff out. Luckily, they are all nice enough people that it can (mostly) be overlooked. Despite efforts to point out their 'talk over' tendencies, they never get it, and still do it.

Consciously practicing new techniques will help.
posted by kuppajava at 8:48 AM on June 26, 2010

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