Of course, some interruptions are collaborative – where the interrupter is positively building on your point and lending you their support. But sometimes interruptions are intrusive, unhelpful and undermining. They also come with the risk that your idea gets attributed to someone else.
So what is the best way to handle interruptions? Here I’ve collated some top tips to help you before, during and after the meeting.
Before the meeting
- Enlist an ally: If you’re anticipating challenges and interruptions in an upcoming meeting then enlist an ally or group of allies. Pair up with someone who can call out the interrupting behaviour, such as “I want to hear what you have to say, Tom, but I don’t think Abby was finished. Abby?“. You can also amplify other women’s contributions by repeating their key messages and giving them credit.
- Pre-align on key points with key stakeholders before the meeting, so that your chances of encountering resistance in the meeting are low.
- Implement a ‘No Interruptions’ policy: if you’re in a position to influence the meeting format then set some rules. You can be sure others will thank you for it.
- Practice socially: use lines like “ooh, I’d love to hear more about that, but let me finish my story”.
During the meeting
- Pre-empt interrupters at the start of your session by saying “‘there is a bit of background to this so please allow me to give the full context before I go into my proposal. After that I’d like to hear your thoughts”.
- Acknowledge others first by saying “I think Bill made a great point and I’d like to add to that / support that”. That way Bill is more likely to listen to you when it’s your turn.
- Restart where you left off when you were interrupted: once the person is done and before anyone else can jump in, say “thank you” and then start right where you left off.
- Keep talking: this strategy is not for the faint-hearted and takes courage. But holding your own can deter interrupters.
- Call it out: another bold strategy which asserts your control. Say “please let me finish, then I’m happy to hear your point”. Be even more direct if required: “Please stop interrupting me I find it disrespectful”.
After the meeting
- Take it offline: serial offenders might need a quiet word about their behaviour. Use the ‘when you XX… I felt XX…’ structure: “I wanted to speak with you about the meeting today. When you cut my point short, I felt disrespected”. Then be sure to listen to their response.
Sharon Peake is the founder and MD of Shape Talent Ltd, a gender equality coaching and consulting business established with the sole purpose of getting more women into senior leadership roles in business. She works with organisations to remove the barriers to women’s progression and with women, helping them to achieve their career potential. Click here to learn more about what we do and join our mailing list to be the first to receive our tools, research and updates.