Do you have an employee who interrupts others to the point of trying to finish their sentences? Or worse, are you the one interrupting? Well, don’t feel too lonely: We have all known colleagues, friends or romantic partners (or the person in the mirror) who have such traits, according to Francesca Gino, a professor at Harvard Business School and the author of Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed, and How We Can Stick to the Plan. Not only do such interrupters detract from what others have to share or learn, but the worst thing they do is self-destructive: They learn nothing, she wrote recently in the Harvard Business Review.

Why do some people interrupt during meetings, presentations or, say, whenever they hear someone else saying anything?


According to research, Americans tend to engage in intrusive interruptions to a greater degree than in other cultures. That said, people from “collectivistic” cultures like Japan can switch their typical cooperative interruptive style (e.g., interruptions asking for clarifications) to the more intrusive North American style when they were engaged in conversations in English with Americans.


According to other studies, people tend to dominate conversations and interrupt when they feel more powerful than others in the room or when they want to signal power to others. Studies of group discussions and conversations have revealed that high-status people (or, even those who believe they have such status) are asked their opinions more often, talk more, receive more positive comments, are chosen as leaders more frequently, are more likely to influence their group’s decisions, and in general dominate the conversation.

How should you handle interrupters?

Preempt the interrupter.

Workplace consultant Laura Rose suggests saying, “There are a lot of different pieces to this explanation, so please bear with me. I want to tell you the entire story. Then I want us to wrap around and get your thoughts on specific details.” According to Gino, this type of preview may stop the interrupter before he or she starts.

Hold a constructive private conversation.

If the interruptions continue, speak to the person in private, suggests Gino. “Give the interrupter the benefit of the doubt; as was the case with me, they may not realize their tendency to interrupt.”

Enlist the group.

Ask the group for suggestions on how the group’s communications approach could be improved. This strategy would allow every member, including you, to raise their awareness of challenges facing the group.

VIA | Harvard Business Review


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