Those who interrupt regularly can be seen as being egotistical and disrespectful explains Marsha Egan

We all know them.  They’re the people who won’t let you finish your thought.  They’re the people who need to get their two cents in before you finish your one cent. They’re the people who care more about what they have to say than what you might know. They are “the interrupters.”

Interrupters almost always have good intentions.  They may be energized by a conversation and involved in the subjects being discussed.  Most times, they may not even realize that they tend to interrupt.

What they don’t realize is that interrupters hurt.  They hurt themselves.  They hurt progress, and they hurt the people they are interrupting.

Here’s the thing… When people interrupt a conversation or a train of thought, they’re essentially evidencing a disrespect for the speaker.  What they’re really saying is, “my thought is more important than yours.”  Those who tend to interrupt regularly can be seen by others as being egotistical and disrespectful.  And many times, these people are oblivious to the perception they are leaving. Regardless, that perception can be career limiting.

Consider this:

  • An interruption can be evidence that you think you know how the person speaking will finish his or her thought.
  • Maybe you’re right, but why do all that extra work? Let the person finish.
  • Then what if you are wrong? If so, the speaker will have to take time to correct you and return the conversation to the track he or she was on.
  • An interruption can also signal your impatience. Whether you feel impatient or not, the speaker and others listening may think you’re impatient. Not a trait a success seeker wants to be known for…
  • An interruption can deliberately take the conversation onto a different path. No one likes being redirected, and your attempts to reposition the conversation may not work in your favor.
  • Interruptions add tension to a conversation. The level of involvement increases, and the need to finish thoughts and compete for talk time can create unnecessary stress.
  • Another reason interruptions hurt is because many times, great ideas are not heard. In their zeal to share their own ideas, interrupters can squash unfinished thoughts. They impede brainstorming. They crush egos. They squash energetic dialogue. The opportunity to learn more or understand before responding can be lost.

Finally, the act of interrupting is truly an act of disrespect.  The people being interrupted are essentially being disrespected – every time it happens.  While some people have tough skin, others may not, and the result is that the person speaking may be hurt. When people are hurt, they usually don’t have a favorable opinion of the person hurting them.  Because these kinds of memories don’t die quickly, the people you are interrupting may not be helpful to your career in the long run.

Stephen Covey encourages us to “Listen to understand, not to respond.”  I think there is a great deal of wisdom in his advice.

By focusing on the person talking and trying diligently to understand what is being said – to the very last word – we can improve our communications in a big way.

Think of this:

  • By not allowing someone to finish his or her thought, you may be jumping to the wrong conclusions.
  • Listening can give you valuable information. Talking doesn’t.
  • Listening carefully shows respect and enables conversation.
  • Thinking before you respond can increase the quality of your own communication.
  • Waiting to respond shows self-confidence.

By avoiding interrupting people, you can add to the positive vibe of the conversation. People can all be given a chance to talk and waiting your turn or raising your hand to be recognized can keep the dialogue flowing and respectful. Sometimes, all it takes is a little bit of patience.

I like to challenge people to wait five seconds before responding.  This practice gives the speaker space.  And if the speaker is not done, it allows him or her to continue.

But most of all, it gives the person speaking the respect he or she deserves.

So, the next time you catch yourself poised to interrupt, don’t.  Refocus on the discussion at hand, digest it, understand it, and wait another five seconds. THEN respond.

Marsha Egan, CPCU, PCC is CEO of The Egan Group, a Florida-based workplace productivity coaching firm. She is the author of Inbox Detox and the Habit of E-mail Excellence. She can be reached at, where you can also read her blog. To listen ... (Read More)

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