Do you find yourself being interrupted frequently at work? Do you find it difficult to finish a sentence in meetings without someone else jumping in, cutting you off, or speaking over you?
You may be tempted to point the finger at your coworkers for their lack of manners, but according to most experts you’ve got nobody to blame but yourself.
That’s because while most people consider such interruptions a symptom of an annoying colleague or a stubborn boss or a toxic workplace or even gender politics, some career coaches and researchers agree that these little frustrating moments are signals that some of your communication skills are lacking.
“When people who are being interrupted get into a victim mindset where they feel undervalued, they’re putting all of the power in the hands of everyone around them,” explains Stacey Engle, the executive vice president of Fierce Conversations, a leadership training and development program focused on improving workplace communication.
Hone Your Message
Engle explains that while we can’t take responsibility for the actions of others, we can discourage interruptions in a number of ways. First and foremost is content, as most people feel a subconscious urge to cut someone off when they’re uninterested in what they’re saying.
And according to a recent survey by Fierce Conversations and Quantum Workplace, that’s a very common occurrence in the workplace. In fact, the study found that only about half of more than 1,300 employees rated the conversations they have with coworkers and managers as “great” or “excellent.”
“Often when people are interrupted others may feel like an issue isn’t being discussed the way they would discuss it, or they’re not talking about the things that really matter,” says Engle, explaining that people often feel the need to interrupt when they perceive themselves as having more passion or knowledge about a subject than the speaker.
Consider Your Energy And Posture
“Posture is incredibly important,” says author and executive coach Karen Elizaga. “The people who get interrupted are generally slouching over at the table, have their head cocked down rather than looking straight at their peers, and that general posture does not inspire confidence.”
The way in which we stand, sit, lean, look, and carry ourselves has a significant impact on how willing others are to hear us out, says Elizaga. As a result, factors ranging from sleep and diet to lifestyle, which often dictate posture and energy, can determine our likelihood of being interrupted at work.
“If you’ve got high energy and enthusiasm for what you’re saying, people will really want to listen to you,” she says.
Don’t Forget About Tone And Language
Showing up wide awake and full of energy is a great start, but you may still be feeding your audience unintentional cues to cut you off. According to Timothy Maynes–an assistant professor of organization and human resources in the University at Buffalo’s School of Management–using “tentative language” can subconsciously invite interruption.
“By tentative language I mean expressions of uncertainty, like disclaimers and qualifiers. ‘I’m not sure if this is right, but,’ or using hedges like ‘I guess’ or ‘possibly,” he explains. “Another form of tentative language is something called a tag question, where you say something and follow it with a question, like ‘that’s right, isn’t it?’ or ‘we could do X, do you think that would be a good idea?’ it’s affirmation seeking and makes you look like less of an expert.”
When All Else Fails, Stop The Interruption In Its Tracks
When interruptions do happen, you can still turn the situation around by confidently declaring your right to speak, says millennial career consultant Jill Jacinto.
“It’s a part of conditioning yourself and practicing responses like ‘I’m not finished yet,’ ‘I have something I’d like to say first,’ and having these planned responses so that when you’re confronted with that situation you don’t sit back and let them speak, you’re prepared with a script,” she says, adding that doing so can discourage future interjections.
What About Mansplaining?
Jacinto adds that that feeling of being unable to finish a sentence without being interrupted is a common problem for her female clients, who often express concern over the cumulative damage of constant cut-offs.
Several studies back up this feeling: Being interrupted or talked over is experience many women encounter regularly when they are outnumbered by men at work.
“A lot of women feel like they want to be polite or nice, or maybe we’ll have time at the end of the meeting or I can follow up with a note, but that shouldn’t be the case, we shouldn’t settle for that,” she says. “If they’re being invited to meetings they need to make sure their ideas get heard, that they get acknowledged for them and eventually it helps them move up the ladder in terms of their career. If a male employee is constantly steeling the stage from them that won’t happen.”
The onus to fix this problem is really on men to recognize their biases (both intentional and unintentional) and show all of their colleagues equal levels of respect and consideration. Until that time however, author and executive coach Stacey Hanke advises women to practice speaking up when they lectures encounter overbearing male personalities at their workplace.
Hanke believes factors such as clarity, posture, confidence, preparation and voice are more significant indicators of whether or not one is unintentionally inviting others to interrupt them. She adds that another potential pitfall is consistency, as those who only display strong speaking qualities at opportune moments run the risk of being perceived as inauthentic.
“We sabotage our reputation and our level of influence when how we show up for a sales pitch or a high stakes presentation is completely different from when someone catches us in the hallway at work and wants to have a conversation,” she says. “The more inconsistent we are the less authentic we are, and if we start messing with consistency and authenticity then you’re messing with the big one, which is trust.”
As she explains in her book, Influence Redefined, Hanke believes that we choose how we show up to each interaction, and the best way to gain influence is to show up prepared and confident on a consistent basis.
When All Else Fails
Hanke believes that demonstrating assertiveness, confidence, and knowledge through both content and body language should defend against frequent workplace interruptions. Should adjusting your own behaviors fail to make an impact, however, she believes there comes a time when it’s appropriate to confront the interrupter.
“What I find a lot of the time is that the interrupter doesn’t know they’re doing it, and unless someone brings it to their attention they’re going to continue,” says Hanke. She adds that most will react positively to the feedback and try to adjust their behavior, but there are still some effective ways to deal with those who won’t.
“When all of those are checked off, then I think it’s at the point of ‘this is who this person is, and I need to adapt to their style,” she said. “Maybe with this person you need to be even more blunt, even more to the point, have your plan really well thought out when it comes to the message of the conversation, and accept it for what it is.”