1. A caffeinated coworker
Say: "Wait, wait. Slow down."
The most direct way to address a speedy peer is also the most complimentary. "Nothing is more flattering to someone than to be listened to," says Daniel Menaker, author of A Good Talk: The Story and Skill of Conversation.
2. A boss that's zipping through instructions
Say: "This is really interesting, but I'm not quite following. This is my fault."
It's essential to respect the office pecking order and act more self-effacing, Menaker says. "It's not a cocktail party. You need to be modest and slightly apologetic."
3. A colleague leading a fast-moving group discussion
Raise your hand.
A hand signal is a subtle yet direct way to curb the pace of discussion. Your intent to participate is perfectly clear. According to Menaker, "You're saying, 'I'm just a student here. I have a question to ask.'"
4. An executive giving a companywide presentation
Lean forward with a puzzled facial expression.
"You basically interrupt without interrupting," Menaker says. By offering visual cues on the sly, the speaker will intuit that a pause is in order.
[Tire Tracks Image: MaleWitch via Shutterstock]
A version of this article appeared in the February 2013 issue of Fast Company magazine.