my coworkers talk over me and I think I’m causing it

by Ask a Manager on March 18, 2014

Share on Facebook1Tweet about this on Twitter6Share on LinkedIn4Share on Google+1Share on TumblrDigg thisShare on StumbleUpon0Print this page

A reader writes:

I’ve been dealing with a weird problem in my work relationships for a long time, and it’s happening again in my new job. I was really hoping you’d have some advice on how to make it stop.

The gist of it is, people occasionally talk right over me, in the middle of a sentence (not where we both start talking at the same time). It’s never a situation where we’re talking about books and suddenly they ask someone else if they remembered to lock the safe. It’s more like we’ll be talking about books and halfway through my response to something, they’ll ask that someone else what they’re going to have for dinner that night. And I just…smile and go along with it. I don’t know what else to do. (Particularly if it’s just casual chatter, I feel stupid calling attention back to me. I just assume this new thing must be more important).

Look, even if I had some terrible habit people didn’t like, like going off on tangents and rambling on and on, or talking too slowly, I can’t imagine them thinking the answer is just to start up a conversation with someone else like I’m not standing there in the middle of a sentence. Who does that?

Looking back, I’ve kind of always had this problem from childhood. I could be reading the history off my blood sugar monitor to my mother (after being asked, no less, and in response to me reporting feeling dizzy) and her friend would just interrupt with some random work anecdote and that would be the end of it. So…I think it’s really just me, independent of the subject or urgency and regardless of how concise I’m being. And it’s something I really want to change now that I’m older and working in a professional setting, but I have no clue how.

I actually fit in really well with my coworkers and we have a great relationship the rest of the time—it’s been that way everywhere I worked. Plus I’m always being complimented about the quality of my work, so it isn’t that I’m not being taken seriously as an employee. But sometimes this thing occurs and I’m left wondering what the hell just happened.

I’ve internalized a lot of your advice after years of reading your blog, and it’s helped immensely. I’ve come across situations where I just ask why something is happening (nicely) rather than stewing about it. I feel like this is different because if I singled out one person, they’re not very well going to come out and say, “Well, I was tired of talking about _____, but you’re not worth the trouble of waiting until the end of your sentence to change the subject.” I think if they actually understood why it was happening, they wouldn’t do it. (That sounded better in my head).

If it were one coworker, I’d probably get up the nerve to ask them nicely what the deal is. But it’s me. It’s just a type of treatment I seem to invite. I’m wondering if you know a way I can change that. There’s so much advice out there on how to sound decisive so people want to implement your suggestions. All I want is whatever level of respect it takes to be able to finish a thought before being shut down.

I’d really appreciate any thoughts you might have on this. When it happens it really throws off my confidence for days at a time. :(

Well, my first thought is that when people do this to you, they’re probably also doing it to other people — in other words, it’s not about you at all, but rather about them. And I say that because there are loads of people out there who do this. So, any chance that you’re taking it personally when it’s something they’re doing to everyone?

(Your example from childhood about your mom seems especially likely to fall in this category. Kids take a ton of energy, and as a result parents do sometimes ask their kids a question and then get easily distracted in the way you described. It’s not ideal and it’s easy to take it personally when you’re on the receiving end, but it’s not uncommon.)

My second thought is about whether there’s any chance that you … well, take longer to get your thoughts out than other people around you? There’s nothing inherently wrong with doing that; in fact, it can even be better, if it means that you’re being more thoughtful. But people have different conversational styles, and if you’re talking with people who tend to express themselves quickly, they might instinctively rush you along without quite realizing what they’re doing. Which isn’t the most polite thing in the world, but it’s about two different conversational styles clashing more than it’s about a disregard or disrespect for you.

Moreover, in some cultures people talk over each as a matter of course. And I don’t mean just cultures in some far-off land — it’s a conversational marker of some demographic groups right here in the U.S.  It can feel incredibly rude if you’re not from that cultural background yourself, but to some people it feels normal.

The remaining possibility, of course, is that everyone you know, both personally and professionally, is being incredibly rude to you … but that seems pretty unlikely. I know that seeing multiple people do this to you makes you feel like something about you is causing it, but if you break that down, it doesn’t make a lot of sense — are you really so unworthy of notice that loads of perfectly polite people have decided to openly disregard you and act like that’s no big deal? Even if there were something about you that somehow signaled No Need To Pay Attention To Me, is it really likely that all these otherwise lovely people would be willing to be openly dismissive of you? I doubt that very much (and I also doubt that you are not worth paying attention to, particularly on that kind of scale). So that to me says that the most likely possibility here is that you are particularly attuned to — and perhaps particularly sensitive to — a behavior that’s relatively common. And not about you.

All that said, I wonder if there’s anyone who you trust to candidly talk this through — someone who would be willing to think about this honestly rather than just rushing to assure you that it’s not happening, who is blunt enough to tell you if there is something you’re doing to contribute to it, and who won’t get defensive if you ask them about it. That’s where I’d start … but I’d also watch to see if the people doing this to you are also doing it to others, and particularly whether my “you might just notice and care about it more” hypothesis rings true.

I bet you’re not the only one who has felt this way, so what other thoughts do people have?

{ 278 comments… read them below or add one }

Cat March 18, 2014 at 12:20 pm

I work with someone who has a habit of talking really slowly and pausing in the middle of sentences. I have to constantly remind myself that even though it sounds to me like he’s done and has just trailed off, that he’s not actually done. If I don’t consciously do that, I am forever interrupting him. So that was my first thought while reading this letter.

Another possibility–made less likely by the OP’s long experience with this, but still something to consider–is regional styles. OP, I don’t suppose you were, say, raised by southern parents in New York or something like that? I could see that leading to this phenomenon for much the same reasons.

Reply

Cat March 18, 2014 at 12:21 pm

I should add that even with this co-worker, I do not blame or judge him for this; it’s just that we have very different communication styles. So, OP, I don’t think it’s likely that other people are blaming or judging you even if differing communications styles are at the root of this!

Reply

Anonsie March 18, 2014 at 1:12 pm

This was my immediate thought as well. I’ve known a lot of people who pause while talking, trail off when they’re thinking, or even turn away as they do so. To a lot of us, that means “I’m done talking” and we’re gonna pick up. The length of an acceptable thinking pause vs an I’m done speaking pause, plus the inflection added before, varies a lot regionally and between individuals. I’m southern and my acceptable pause length is extremely short, and I hear the inflection that signals a pause is coming as well. I have to be mindful not to cut people short.

My partner in particular does this– he’ll finish a sentence with a downward (sort of trailing) inflection and then be silent for 2-3 beats. Someone will then start talking and he’ll be upset because they interrupted him, and in his mind he was clearly still talking. I can never tell when he’s actually finished, I don’t think many other people can either. His parents don’t do this, so I don’t know where it comes from. I wonder if the OP does this as well.

Reply

Elizabeth West March 18, 2014 at 1:47 pm

I have a friend who does the exact same thing as your husband. When we talk on the phone, I have to wait a few seconds before I start talking because he’ll just pick up where he left off and then I’m talking over him.

Reply

Darcy Pennell March 18, 2014 at 2:39 pm

That is exactly what my husband does: in the middle of a sentence his voice trails off and he looks away. Unfortunately he does this when he’s done *and* when he’s collecting his thoughts and intends to continue talking. It’s really difficult to tell which is happening at any given moment. There have been times that I’ve started talking right away and he felt interrupted, and other times that I sat there for a minute or more waiting for him to finish his thought, and he was already done and wondering why I didn’t say anything!

I really don’t want to interrupt my husband, but it still happens all the time. If we didn’t know each other well enough to have discussed it, he’d probably think I was terribly rude, didn’t care about anything he had to say, etc. Neither one of us is right or wrong. We just have different verbal styles.

One thing I’ve seen people do is hold up a hand or a finger in a “hang on, I’m not done” gesture while collecting their thoughts. Not sure if that would work for the OP, but it might be less confrontational/easier to do than waiting until someone jumps in and then interrupting *them* to say “I wasn’t finished talking.” I don’t know if I could do that!

Reply

Emily K March 18, 2014 at 3:52 pm

I can’t even tell you how many times my partner asks me a question that requires some thought, and I start to say two or three filler words like, “Well, I mean…” and then pause for what I swear is between 1 and 2 seconds to organize my thoughts before continuing, and in that half-beat he’ll immediately ask “What?” because he thinks that was supposed to be a complete sentence and he didn’t hear it. Then feel silly backtracking to say, “I said, ‘Well, I mean,’ and was about to continue but you cut me off…what I was going to say was…”

I’m not sure what the better alternative is when I need a few moments to think before speaking. I’ve tried just waiting before beginning to speak, but then “Eh?” is often interjected before I’m ready.

Luckily my partner is the only person I regularly have this problem with and I don’t really encounter it at work. (To Cat’s point, he’s from NY and I’m from a southern family.)

Reply

Melissa March 20, 2014 at 12:40 pm

Ugh, my partner does this too and it drives me nuts, especially since I was raised by New Yorkers who constantly interrupt each other and have to try really hard NOT to do that. I’m willing to change but at least give me a reasonable clue, lol! I’ve trained him to say “I’m done” when he’s finished, and I wait a few extra beats to be sure.

Reply

Vicki March 25, 2014 at 1:14 am

” in his mind he was clearly still talking”

^^ This.

Reply

Jen S. 2.0 March 18, 2014 at 1:41 pm

If you tend to pause much longer than a breath, for whatever reason, many people, me included, very likely assume you are done speaking. I agree with Alison that it’s highly unlikely that they whole world is this rude to just you; it’s likely that something you do may be cueing them that you are done speaking and it’s their turn. You may not think you are speaking slowly or inconcisely or pausing a lot, but you may indeed be doing that *by comparison to most of the people with whom you find yourself in conversation.*

There was a post here a few months ago on a similar topic, and some people noted that they frequently start sentences, and then trail into silence while they organize the rest of what they want to say. That is foreign** to me! I don’t *start* speaking unless what I want to say is organized! If I indeed have to pause to organize my thoughts, I generally say something like, “Hang on, I’m trying to phrase this gracefully.” If someone pauses for much longer than a breath mid-sentence, I think I assume they’ve lost their train of thought, gotten distracted, or are done. I’m trying to work on that assumption (and not jumping in to help them).

**Well, it’s not really foreign to me. My sister does it and it drives me nuts. When she pauses mid-sentence for longer than a breath or so, I tend to snap, “Was there more to that???!” Then, if there IS more to it, I tend to snap, “Don’t you organize your thoughts BEFORE you talk???!” (I’m impatient in general with my poor sister.) But I always thought she was the weird one. (She is, for other reasons.) I didn’t realize there’s a whole group of people out there who habitually and randomly stop talking but expect you to know they’re not done.

Reply

fposte March 18, 2014 at 2:04 pm

See, I used to be able to generate full and cogent sentences on the fly, and as I age I’ve lost the ability to do that reliably. So I haven’t learned to pre-plan sentences, and I’m taking note of your tactics here to adopt for myself.

Reply

monologue March 18, 2014 at 5:03 pm

wow, I’m glad I’m not your sister.

Reply

Mouse March 18, 2014 at 6:31 pm

Seriously. Yikes. If my sister snapped “Don’t you organize your thoughts BEFORE you talk???!” at me I would do her the favor of not talking to her any more. Ever.

Reply

Melissa March 20, 2014 at 12:43 pm

Sisters fight. I have a sister who sometimes irritates me and I sometimes snap at her. She does it, too, if I irritate her – less often now that we’re adults, but it happens. I’m glad she hasn’t decided to stop talking to me over a minor sibling spat, otherwise we probably wouldn’t have talked since we were three and seven.

Reply

amaranth16 March 18, 2014 at 6:03 pm

Some of us also organize our thoughts BY talking them out, too.

Reply

Wren March 19, 2014 at 11:30 am

YES! This is actually one of the things that mark someone as an extrovert. I do most of my thinking out loud and have to work through stuff in a dialog.

Reply

hild March 19, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Double YES. I can sit and think by myself for hours and can’t process through a problem or situation. Then when I start talking about it with someone, I have had an epiphany within about 2 minutes of conversation. That’s happened to me so many times.

In my personality styles classes I’ll tell people that Introverts/Indirect styles tend to think about it, fully form their thoughts and only THEN will they talk. Extroverts/Direct styles on the other hand will talk and then come to their conclusion.

Reply

Vicki March 25, 2014 at 1:16 am

The problem here is that, for some of us, by the time we’ve taken the time to organize the full paragraph in our heads, the conversation has moved on to a different topic (and sometimes physically to another location entirely!)

Reply

Cajun2core March 18, 2014 at 2:44 pm

I agree with the comments above. I am someone who does pause for longer than most people mid-discussion. My wife used to always talk over me. I explained to her what was going on and there were a few times when I had to tell her “Hey, I am not finished yet.” Things have gotten better with my wife and with others by doing this. Start doing this with someone you trust (a lot) and who will not get upset with you if you do have to tell them, “Hey, I’m not done yet.” Be sure and explain to them what is going first. Hopefully, you can get comfortable with this one person and you can do it with others afterwards.

Sometimes, I just have to be assertive and when someone starts talking before I finish, I just talk over them (while they are talking).

Reply

Celeste March 18, 2014 at 12:22 pm

I second the advice to get somebody’s opinion, rather than internalize something negative until it becomes your self-worth. I also wonder if the type of work you do has a role here. Are you a slow talker in a fast-paced industry?

The one thing I think you need to do differently is to stop just laughing over your discomfort when somebody interrupts you. I’d opt for giving them The Look instead.

Good luck; this doesn’t sound like a pleasant experience.

Reply

fposte March 18, 2014 at 12:28 pm

The Look isn’t going to convey anything if it was unintentional, though. I’d just wonder why I was suddenly seeing bitchface and figure it was lunch going down wrong.

Reply

Michele March 18, 2014 at 12:42 pm

I agree you need to talk to a trusted friend or a co-worker you respect to see if they have noticed anything in your verbal communication style that would lead to people constantly interrupting you. While it is rude you could be giving non-verbal cues that you are finished with your thought. I agree fposte bitchface/stink eye is definitely not going to do anything but cause more funny looks.

Reply

Celeste March 18, 2014 at 12:49 pm

You have both given me something to think about–if she is dealing with people who are insensitive to her finishing her speech before they interrupt, they probably aren’t going to be sensitive to a dissatisfied look from her. There is surely a connection issue here. I’m questioning how “great” the office really gets along.

But I will be really interested to hear an update of feedback from an observer.

Reply

fposte March 18, 2014 at 1:02 pm

We don’t don’t even know that it’s an issue of speaker sensitivity in either case, though. If I’m responding to somebody who, as far as I can tell, has said what they’re saying, I’m not insensitive to start talking. If the behavior is this broad, it’s not because everybody else has ganged up to be rude to the OP.

Reply

Celeste March 18, 2014 at 1:14 pm

I agree with your points about normal conversation. I question general sensitivity to her, though, because when she is interrupted she gives a nervous little laugh…and no one ever picks up on it. Does it appear to be a tic, or a tacit approval? Or do they even care?

I really hope we get an update.

Reply

Vicki March 25, 2014 at 1:17 am

Perhaps, instead of the Look you used the Finger (No not That Finger!). The index finger raised to say “wait, I’m formulating”.

(Some of us need progress bars over our heads…)

Reply

Anonymous March 18, 2014 at 12:24 pm

People have always done this to me, too. I’m quiet and easy to talk over. :( I need to start carrying a megaphone around.

Reply

KJR March 18, 2014 at 12:34 pm

I’m not quiet OR easy to talk over, and it happens to me. I just get the feeling that some people just do this! I have called them out a few times in meetings, saying something like, “I’d like to finish my thought” then proceed with whatever I was saying. I kind of make it seem like I’ll forget what I was going to say to make it come out in a less abrasive manner. Or, after they are finished talking, I will say, “So, as I was saying a few minutes ago…” and go back to the topic I was discussing prior to being interrupted. It’s just a really rude habit that some people have I think. Both methods I just mentioned at least bring it to their attention without yelling, “HEY, I WAS TALKING!” which is what I’d like to do.

Reply

Anonymous March 18, 2014 at 12:39 pm

That’s what I would yell into my megaphone, if I had one.

Reply

HM in Atlanta March 18, 2014 at 12:49 pm

In moments of frustration, I have interrupted them right back saying, “Allow me to finish my sentence before you start talking please.” This is a bad approach. However, for one particular coworker, it’s the only thing that works.

Reply

Anonymous March 18, 2014 at 1:39 pm

I have done that too!

Reply

Anonymous March 18, 2014 at 9:01 pm

I do this in my personal life, with friends and family. I wish I had the guts to say it to some co-workers, but I think it’s hard to do in a way that’s neutral enough where I wouldn’t come across as the bad guy (because I can have pretty, uh, sharp tones if I’m annoyed and it’s one of the main things I’ve had to work on in a business setting)

Reply

HR Lady March 18, 2014 at 1:42 pm

I like using “I’d like to finish my thought” or “let me finish my thought.”

But also be aware that there might be some times when you really don’t need to finish your thought, and just let it go. I find this in casual conversations, maybe with friends. If people are just chatting, and the conversation moves on before you could finish, it could seem weird if you insist on going back to finish a thought.

Reply

KJR March 18, 2014 at 1:52 pm

Agree with you on this for sure. I definitely wouldn’t do this with friends/family. Unless it was my husband interrupting me that is! :D

Reply

Anonymous March 18, 2014 at 9:04 pm

Depends on how often it happens and why it happens. I put my foot down when my husband’s (obnoxious) college friends try to talk over me. Just because we don’t get along doesn’t mean they get to bulldoze me. But I also do it with my best friend, quite differently – we’re excitable around each other but sometimes I’m trying to make a point and I end up saying, “HEY, I’m trying to get something out here!” and it’s not weird.

But yes, in general, chatting and hanging in a group, it’s very weird if you insist on finishing a thought and making everyone very carefully listen to each other. I would feel like a Debbie Downer.

Reply

saro March 18, 2014 at 3:09 pm

I have a friend who constantly talks over everyone and then gets mad when the original talker re-directs the conversation back to the original point. She realizes when she’s being interrupted but not when she does it to anyone else. It’s tiring.

Reply

Vicki March 25, 2014 at 1:33 am

Be careful how you phrase this.

I had a co-worker like this once. He was always taking long pauses to think and then complaining that people talked when he wasn’t finished yet.

The day that he interrupted me in the middle of a sentence, in a staff meeting, was, therefore, a good day in my memory.

Reply

Emma March 18, 2014 at 2:43 pm

Same here!

Reply

monologue March 18, 2014 at 5:09 pm

Yeah, some people are the type to talk over anyone, but some people are quieter and get talked over. Everyone needs to think more about communication styles and personalities and work to ensure that everyone is given an opportunity to speak.

I have worked places where meetings feel like a war for airspace, like, I am barely listening to the person speaking because I am totally focused on waiting for them to finish so that I can break in and speak immediately before someone else does. It’s exhausting and can create an environment where good ideas might not be heard.

Reply

fposte March 18, 2014 at 12:26 pm

In addition to the “it’s probably not just happening to you,” is it possible that you’re pausing in a way that unintentionally signals you’re done? I know I’ve had the experience where the other speaker sounds done, and there’s a pause, and I start talking, and then they start talking after that, leaving us *both* feeling talked over. And since it tends to happen with a couple of particular people, it’s not just me being oblivious, it’s a rhythmic discrepancy.

(It is also worth considering the length of responses, since that’s a rhythm thing too.)

Reply

Mints March 18, 2014 at 12:51 pm

This happens to me too in situations like book clubs put class discussions when I had a complicated thought, and I start explaining it, then realize I didn’t explain something else, so I pause trying to think how to go back, then people think I’m done, and I have to say “no wait what I’m saying about (complicated thing) is…” Or “hang on, come back to me.” In those situations, I try not to do so much thinking aloud and have actual points to make

Reply

TiffHarmz March 18, 2014 at 6:15 pm

I was wondering this, too.

This could be a situation where it could help the OP to try recording herself in conversation, either just audio, or doing video if she has the capability.

I used to be a journalist, and when I first started in that career I was shocked to listen to myself when I sat down to transcribe my interviews — not only was I surprised at the stark difference between how I perceived myself in conversation and how I actually came across, I was also able to clearly hear how my communication was affecting/triggering the other person to behave.

I hated transcribing, but it was immensely helpful in helping me come face to face with some of my conversational weak spots. And even though I’m not in journalism now, those observations have been invaluable to me in my new field (as they would in any field where you’re talking to other human beings) and especially as a manager.

So in addition to the other suggestions to ask for candid feedback, it could be an easy experiment just to turn on a tape recorder (or use one of the bazillion smart phone recording apps if you have one) the next time you go out to lunch with a friend, have a meeting, tell yourself a story in the car, etc. It’s actually really easy to forget the thing is on, and seriously, it’s crazy how detached we can be from the words coming out of our own mouths.

(Also, the pausing thing is super relevant. I actually began to use that as an interviewing technique to get more information out of people. I found that waiting just a couple seconds to respond to someone — just slightly longer than is socially comfortable — would almost always cause my subjects to keep talking. And the stuff they’d say then was usually the BEST, because at that point they’ve 1) run out of any “scripted” material they had up their sleeve, and 2) it’s impulsive communication and so is much more honest. So mind the pauses!)

Reply

Lynn Whitehat March 18, 2014 at 7:16 pm

Deborah Tannen’s “That Not What I Meant” has a lot of interesting stuff about interrupting. She says almost all cultures agree that interrupting is rude, but there is a *wide* variety of opinion on when someone is “interrupting”. For instance, different cultures have different lengths of pauses before they feel that the speaker has “yielded the floor”. Some cultures are a lot stricter about only one person speaking at a time, while others like it when people “chime in”.

Take a look; maybe something like that could be going on? Even if it’s not a cross-cultural thing exactly, maybe you pause in your speaking longer than people expect you to, and they think you’re done, or something?

About your mom, I have two small kids, and IME kids tend to ramble and meander when asked a direct question. It’s not the greatest, but it does happen that I ask one of my boys a question, and then get distracted and/or give up before they tell me what I asked. It is especially common when there are other people around and I’m trying extra-hard not to get out my Mean Mom voice, “THE NUMBERS. What are they.” Obviously I wasn’t there, but maybe it was something like that?

Reply

Anonymous March 18, 2014 at 9:06 pm

So is it like a nanosecond in Italian-American culture? :D

- A proud Italian-American with a very, very interruptive family

Reply

CaliCali March 18, 2014 at 12:28 pm

As someone who naturally blathers a bit, and can sometimes take a bit too long to get to the point, I’ve had this happen. But sometimes, frankly, I need to hurry my point along — particularly at work. It could be a way that people are trying to move along the subject in the short amount of time they’re taking to talk about personal matters in the workplace.

And a related thought — I once had a roommate who wouldn’t just talk a lot, but would never ever ask questions of anyone else. The world was the audience to her never-ending monologue. I don’t know if this is the case with you, but when talking with other people, do you truly engage them, by asking questions or leaving things open for people to interject with their own thoughts? Because if you are not truly conversing, people might just butt in because they feel they’ll never be heard otherwise. I’m not trying to come at you harshly; I’m saying that if this is a perpetual issue, part of it could be the way you’re approaching conversations (the anecdote with your mom’s neighbor notwithstanding — I think that’s just an example of people riding along their own train of thought).

Reply

Kate March 18, 2014 at 8:47 pm

This is kind of what I was thinking. When I read this letter I immediately thought of a coworker who just never stops talking. He’s not unlikeable and he’s fantastic at his job, but he just really seems to love to hear himself talk, and if other people didn’t assert themselves and start speaking even though he’s still going, no one else would ever speak. He probably doesn’t realize he does this, as the LW might not if it’s the same kind of situation. If so, though, it’s an easy fix; just try asking other people questions and inviting genuine conversation rather than sharing yet another opinion or story.

Reply

llamathatducks March 19, 2014 at 3:09 am

Yeah, I have this sort of situation with my grandma. She’ll answer a simple question with a five-minute monologue with tangents, and she’ll hardly make any pauses so it’s really hard to find a moment to say “ok, I need to go sleep now” or anything else. So while I’ve been avoiding it so far, I think I might need to interrupt her in the future because it is just not possible to exit her stream of thoughts in any other way.

Reply

KC March 18, 2014 at 12:30 pm

I have a coworker who is incredibly smart, thoughtful, and I ADORE working with him. He has a tendency to try to tell you ALL the information available about a situation when a more succinct response would have been better or more appropriate.

I completely understand his tendency; if he were on the receiving end, he’d want to know all the details, so he gives other what he’d prefer to have. I find myself constantly trying NOT to talk over him, rush him to his point, etc. There’s nothing worse when you can tell someone can’t wait for you to stop talking so they can get in their .02, and it’s hard for me to not do that with him.

And it’s completely a stylistic thing. He doesn’t talk slowly, he just talks details. Maybe this is something the OP could be doing?

Reply

KC March 18, 2014 at 12:32 pm

*he gives others

Reply

AVP March 18, 2014 at 1:57 pm

The fact that this is an 8-paragraph question leads me to think this might be at least part of the case.

Reply

AVP March 18, 2014 at 2:16 pm

Just noticed the discussion of this below – I want to emphasize that I don’t think the length of the letter is problematic at all, and I read all the way through to the end and appreciated the background, but I did noticed that it was longer and more detailed and in-depth than many of the questions we see here.

Reply

Gail L March 18, 2014 at 12:31 pm

I’ve noticed in myself something a bit different. I don’t get interrupted, but in group conversations, I get talked over from the beginning of a sentence. I start talking at the same time as someone else, and for some reason they “win.” Even when I’m determined to get my point in and not be talked over, it’s like a game of chicken and I always lose. So I’ve internalized behavior to wait until this stops happening before making my point. I would definitely lose on one of those political sniping shows. -_-

On the other hand, I have interacted with both motor-mouths who never seem to pause when speaking, and extremely slow speakers who take a long time to make a point and often repeat themselves. For the first type I do interrupt them, and for the second type I try not to interrupt. I feel like OP would need to describe her/his speaking style a bit more to know if any of these issues are the case… or consult someone familiar with the whole thing.

Reply

Another Gail L March 18, 2014 at 1:34 pm

Hi Gail L, I am also Gail L…and I am glad that you make intelligent comments! Just in case someone thinks that you are me :)

Reply

Gail L March 18, 2014 at 3:50 pm

Unless you’re me, and I’m just playing a really weird prank!

Reply

Cath@VWXYNot? March 18, 2014 at 2:09 pm

I was once interviewed by someone where we just couldn’t seem to figure out how to talk to each other – over and over again, we kept starting to speak at the same time! I’d never experienced that before or since. I did end up getting a job in that company, although not in his department, and we ended up getting along great. When we run into each other we still sometimes comment on how very strange that first conversation was!

Reply

kas March 18, 2014 at 5:55 pm

That happens to me all the time and I’m so determined to “win” and yet lose almost every time. I’m not a loud person and the winner is usually always much louder – I feel like I’d have to yell in order to continue my point instead of backing down.

After like two times I just give up and listen to everyone else speak.

Reply

Ms Enthusiasm March 18, 2014 at 12:32 pm

I recently saw this quote “People listen to reply, not to understand”. I think what Allison said is correct in that a lot of people do this. They probably do it so much it doesn’t even occur to them that, technically, they are being rude. Usually when it happens to me I decide if I want to let my thought go (depending on how important it is) or to repeat what I was saying when I get another chance to speak. Sometimes I’ll do this even if the other person has moved on to a different subject. I might even say, “Back to what I was saying…”.

The only thing I could think of if you seem to think this happens an extra lot to just you is perhaps your speaking tone and volume might need to be appraised. Not that this gives anyone the right to interrupt you, but perhaps if you sounded more assertive it would be less likely to happen? Do you have a close friend who can give you honest feedback on this?

Reply

Mints March 18, 2014 at 12:45 pm

I disagree with this though, because interrupting is an example of something that’s only rude when people expect it to be rude. I think this rudeness is in the eye of the beholder. (like table/eating manners) When a group of interrupters have a conversation, it didn’t feel rude, because that’s how everyone expects to communicate. And I disagree with the idea that I’m trying to monopolize the conversation if I’m interrupting with clarifications and responses to the other person

Reply

Colette March 18, 2014 at 1:07 pm

I’m pretty firmly of the opinion that interrupting is rude. It’s a clear signal that you don’t care what the other person is saying. (You can clarify and respond after they’ve said what they’re trying to say.)

There may be specific interactions where everyone is participating and interrupting is OK, but in general, it’s not.

Reply

TL March 18, 2014 at 1:14 pm

It depends. In my (large) family, you have to interrupt to be heard and in most casual, large group conversations I’ve been in, it’s totally okay and even expected.

In smaller groups, and in more serious conversations, it’s not okay to interrupt generally.

Reply

KJR March 18, 2014 at 1:57 pm

If you don’t interrupt my sister, you’d never get a word in otherwise! I accidentally unplugged my landline while in the middle of conversation with her, and it took me forever to find it (slipped behind the bed, and even though I could see it, I couldn’t reach it). And wouldn’t you know it, when I finally found the cord and plugged it back in, she was STILL TALKING. She didn’t even notice I had been gone for close to 5 minutes. Yep, she’s a talker.

Reply

fposte March 18, 2014 at 2:29 pm

Which points up thing that may or may not be relevant to the OP. There is no right to hold the floor forever, and sometimes when people break in to change the subject, it’s self-defense.

Reply

Ornery PR March 18, 2014 at 3:54 pm

Oy. Both of my sisters do this. They both talk so fast and so much! I have become the “good listener” of the family, mostly because I find it so exhausting trying to edge my way into their conversations (monologs, really).

Reply

Anonsie March 18, 2014 at 1:15 pm

What constitutes interrupting is totally different from group to group, though, that’s the problem. It really is open to interpretation.

Reply

Ask a Manager March 18, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Yep, and there really are cultural groups where it’s normal and not considered rude (and in fact is considered a sign that you’re engaged in the conversation).

Reply

ec March 18, 2014 at 2:51 pm

Can you give examples of this? I am an interrupter and it generally is a sign of engagement – but my husband has never encountered this and doesn’t “get” it!

Reply

Eden March 18, 2014 at 3:12 pm

This was totally the culture of my last work group. Particularly if we were together in a social rather than work situation, everyone generally would be talking at once, over each other, responding before the other person was done, you name it.

This was the norm, and because it was egalitarian–no one was interrupted any more than anyone else–it was fun and not bothersome. There were many opportunities to lose the rest of your sentence, but no one appeared to care.

My husband witnessed this and said we were all nuts.

Reply

MissDisplaced March 18, 2014 at 4:28 pm

When my family gets together it’s like this too!
Many conversations going around, lots of interruptions and weaving in and out of conversations.

Prickly Pear March 18, 2014 at 11:57 pm

My old place was like that too. We had dinner together a couple of weekends ago, and our table looked like a commercial- very diverse group
of people talking and laughing, random hands flying, cooing over babies and finally shutting down the place.
We had about five side conversations, and occasionally we’d hear a certain keyword and all come together and then splinter again.
And yes, outsiders usually think we’re crazy. We probably are, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. I like the people I work with now, but these people have become family.

Ask a Manager March 18, 2014 at 3:35 pm

Do you mean examples of the specific cultural groups? I’ve heard it said about Italians, Jews, New Yorkers, east-coasters, and somewhere else in this thread someone said southern Californias and people of Mediterranean backgrounds.

Reply

JEC March 18, 2014 at 4:22 pm

I had no idea this was a cultural norm for some people.
I would definitely count myself in the crowd who feel that interrupting is terribly rude, and when someone does it to me I feel like my value in the conversation has just been terminated. I also get incredibly frustrated talking to people who never pause, because I don’t want to be rude to them and interrupt. It never occurred to me that they were just waiting for someone to cut in.

WIlib March 18, 2014 at 5:14 pm

As an east coaster living and working in the midwest, I get the hairy eyeball for interrupting all the time. I’ve worked to adjust to local norms, but I slip all the time, most often when I AM very engaged in the conversation. In my “culture,” interrupting with something off-topic is rude, but if you’re just participating in the conversation, it’s normal, and often a sign of enthusiasm.

JustKatie March 18, 2014 at 5:15 pm

It was very normal when I lived in France. If you didn’t interrupt, you could go an entire dinner without getting a word in edgewise :).

fposte March 18, 2014 at 1:19 pm

I think it’s more complicated than that, in that I suspect a lot of times one side doesn’t see it as an interruption–they’re seeing the floor as yielded more quickly than the speaker intended. I’ve found it really useful to think about it in terms of traffic and driver behavior: a traffic space that is rude to insert yourself into where I live now is a traffic space that it’s rude to pass up and thereby make people behind you wait longer in Chicago.

Reply

TL March 18, 2014 at 1:24 pm

I would never interrupt my grandmother, but I interrupt my best friend all the time.

Reply

Colette March 18, 2014 at 1:26 pm

Yeah, I’m revising my original statement.

If the interrupting is mutual and the conversation continues to progress, then I think it’s fine.

If the interrupting only goes in one direction or if one person stops actively participating in the conversation after the interruption, then that’s not OK.

Reply

fposte March 18, 2014 at 1:35 pm

And for org culture–if you interrupt but nobody ever interrupts you, you are the outlier.

Reply

Colette March 18, 2014 at 1:58 pm

Agreed.

I think it’s important to be conscious of the people around you regardless of the situation, and if you detect signs that someone is withdrawing or getting frustrated by interruptions, I don’t think it’s OK to wave it off with “it’s not really rude”.

Reply

Mints March 18, 2014 at 4:31 pm

Yeah it’s definitely not never rude to interrupt, it just varies a lot based on the expectations of the group. And I’ve been in situations where I’ve interrupted someone who responds like “anyway…” and I make sure to let them finish. But I was taking issue with the “always rude” idea, because it’s somewhere in the middle.
I really like fposte’s driving analogy, but my first analogy was that it’s like eating conventions or table manners, where you try to adjust to however everyone else is eating (which utensil, using a napkin, tiny bites, burping?)
And I think is good to be aware of cultural differences in communication too

ec March 18, 2014 at 2:53 pm

I love you traffic analogy – especially because I just moved to a city with a different “space” tolerance between cars!

Reply

Ask a Manager March 18, 2014 at 3:14 pm

Wow. Not only do my husband and I have different takes on interrupting, but I often think he’s driving too close to the person in front of him and it makes me nervous. And he’s from Chicago. Utterly fascinating!

Reply

Steph March 19, 2014 at 12:09 am

I am a rural Midwesterner and I drive in Chicago regularly. When traffic is moving, I keep pace in the faster lanes. But when traffic is stop-and-go, it is true that I let the space ahead of me get too big for what the driver behind me finds tolerable. I get honked at!

Reply

Ornery PR March 18, 2014 at 4:07 pm

I like the driving analogy a lot. My sister talks like she drives. She gets distracted and her talking tends to slow and ramble, but then she notices that someone is about to interrupt her because she’s no longer interesting or making sense, so she starts talking louder and faster so she doesn’t get interrupted. She does the same thing driving when she realizes she’s going too slowly and then speeds up so no one can pass her. It’s a fascinating and frustrating phenomenon.

Reply

Jen S. 2.0 March 18, 2014 at 4:48 pm

I’ve often wondered who those irksome people are you meander along the road at some ridiculously slow speed, but seem to get irked when you want to go past them to maintain a normal speed! Many times I have wanted to know what is happening in their heads!!

That said, this has made me realize that I, also, drive like I talk. Too fast most of the time, and with occasional egregious lapses where I’m not paying attention to the people around me.

Reply

Ornery PR March 18, 2014 at 5:25 pm

If I could offer you insight to her thought process there, I would. However, I’m too scared to go digging for answers there.

Reply

amaranth16 March 18, 2014 at 6:18 pm

INTERESTING. I also drive like I talk (quickly and impatiently). I wonder if this is a widespread phenomenon?

Reply

Wren March 19, 2014 at 11:38 am

That would be me. Usually I just don’t notice how slow I am until someone is right behind me. I’m not trying to keep you from passing, I just wasn’t aware.

I’m a terrible driver, I will admit.

Reply

Mints March 18, 2014 at 4:34 pm

Now I’m wondering if you guys actually stop for three seconds at a stop sign, because around here, we genetslly don’t and people get impatient if you do (“California roll”?)

Reply

btdubbs March 18, 2014 at 5:01 pm

I think there’s a difference between interrupting to completely change the subject (which I agree is pretty rude), and chiming in during pauses to ask clarifying questions and give reactions to the story in progress. (Personal bias alert: this tends to be my speaking style.)

In one-on-one conversations, I do this to prove I’m actively listening, and in group conversations I’m often doing this to help a person make the story interesting to the entire group (by adding context for those who don’t know the back story or making side jokes or probing for interesting facts if the story is getting dry). I’m careful to not speak over people and I’m good at reading a room, so it’s a style that works well with my friend group. I do have one engineering-type friend who gets fluttered when interrupted, so I try to be respectful of his preference (aside from when I’m teasing him about something).

It comes from a knee-jerk desire to help a person out, especially if they’re losing the thread of the story, that would be very difficult for me to shake completely.

Reply

Ellie H. March 18, 2014 at 1:10 pm

Me too. I heard it as think about this all the time – I almost exclusively listen with the intent to respond, not with the intent to listen. (I like it better as “listen with the intent to listen,” not “to understand.”) I hate it and really try to fight against it, but it is really hard.

Reply

Ellie H. March 18, 2014 at 1:10 pm

*heard it and

Reply

Fiona March 18, 2014 at 12:34 pm

Does this happen with work related conversations as well as casual chitchat?

Reply

Kristen March 18, 2014 at 12:38 pm

I’ll just second AAM’s note about cultural/regional differences in interrupting. I’m a pretty quiet person, and I remember when I went off to college I was shocked and annoyed at how rude friends and classmates could be just steamrolling over me when I was clearly not finished. I thought it was my shyness at first but later noticed they did it to everyone. It still irritates me at work to some extent, but I try to put it in context and make sure to get my point across in the end. I bet it’s not you, OP!

Reply

Ask a Manager March 18, 2014 at 12:40 pm

What area did you move to, and where had you come from? I find the cultural component to this fascinating.

(As a Jew and as someone from the east coast, both demographic groups that are reported to do more of this.)

Reply

Kristen March 18, 2014 at 12:48 pm

I grew up in rural NC, where no one interrupts unless there’s a fire :) I went to college in a mid-size city in NC (with a big national reach, lots of out-of-staters) and now live and suffer in the DC metro area. Since you mention it, my best friend, a Jewish urban-East Coaster, interrupts me all the time and it drives me nuts!

Reply

Kate M March 18, 2014 at 1:56 pm

Ohhh that’s so funny – also from rural North Carolina, went to school in Chapel Hill (any chance that’s where you went?), and moved to DC.
I’ve found the same things – I kind of pride myself on being a good listener, and even allow pauses after people are finished speaking (sometimes to see if they have anything else to say, and sometimes the silences make people nervous and blurt things out they weren’t planning to say, which can give insight). But it does drive me crazy when a lot of friends from other parts of the country have no problem talking over me. It’s definitely something I’ve had to get used to, and it has helped make me more assertive as well.

Reply

Kristen March 19, 2014 at 10:12 am

I went to Chapel Hill for grad school :)

Reply

Vet Tech Gal March 18, 2014 at 12:49 pm

I’m from Southern California, and lots of people talk over each other in conversation (so much so I thought the culture/demographic comment was pointing our way!)

Reply

Ask a Manager March 18, 2014 at 12:53 pm

Oooh, that’s interesting since I also spent part of my childhood in southern California. A triple whammy!

Reply

fposte March 18, 2014 at 1:07 pm

Though sometimes it’s just individual–between interrupter me and my two most interrupting friends, we have one midwesterner, one Canadian, and one deep Southerner.

Interestingly, I can hear it coming on with one of them during a meeting–her “uh-huhs” get more audible and frequent, her body language becomes more involved. I think that’s her “politely waiting” period.

Reply

Marie March 18, 2014 at 1:38 pm

I do exactly that. It works on some people but not others, though.

Reply

KC March 18, 2014 at 1:41 pm

It’s funny. When I’m talking to my mom (a Southerner), I can tell when she’s distracted/disengaging when we’re on the phone when she starts saying “uh huh” more frequently.

I’ve actually halted phone conversations with her and offered to call back another time, because I can tell she’s distracted.

Reply

Sydney March 18, 2014 at 6:28 pm

I’m an interrupter from Texas. It happens here a lot, too. But the flipside also happens a lot. My husband, also born and bred here in central Texas takes forever to say what he wants to say. I have to try really hard to make sure I don’t interrupt him sometimes.

Reply

ec March 18, 2014 at 2:55 pm

I am an interrupter from SoCal as well – I was hoping I could blame it on the region! My husband is from Texas and is more sensitive to interruptions, so I think there is a big regional component.

Reply

HM in Atlanta March 18, 2014 at 12:53 pm

I’m similar (from Atlanta). My boss (and her peers) are all interrupters/talk over each other. To have a better relationahip, I actually told my boss (who grew up on Army bases) that I would never interrupt her. That if I interrupted her, something would literally be on fire.

Something I’ve also noticed – people who aren’t regular interrupters (like me) are very awkward when we do try to interrupt.

Reply

the gold digger March 18, 2014 at 2:31 pm

Now I am curious. I grew up on air force bases. My parents are from the upper Midwest – super small town. Germans and Norwegians who do not have forced hand-holding in church. I am going to have to pay attention to see if I am an interrupter. I think I am a waiter, but with some people, I have to interrupt (like my husband), to get a word in edgewise.

Reply

Mouse March 18, 2014 at 7:04 pm

I grew up in the Pacific North West, and my family is of northern European origin. It is considered very rude to interrupt someone in our family/culture. It would be a sign of disrespect, and that you are lacking in consideration for others and manners. So yeah…I struggle to deal with interrupters and to not judge them :)

Reply

Laura March 18, 2014 at 8:23 pm

I also grew up in the Pacific Northwest – in Oregon, near Portland – and my family is a mixed bag of western European origins, but several generations in the US. (My parents grew up in Ohio for one, New Jersey and West Virginia primarily for the other, though.) And we are very prone to talk into what may sound like long pauses to someone else, but sound like endings to us – which obviously results in interrupting some other conversational styles. I try to monitor that, but it’s _really hard_ to tell sometimes.

(Things that bug me: people who gate-check me hard on interrupting, then *interrupt me all the time*. I can live with one or the other, but both in one person just drives me up a tree.)

Reply

Karowen March 18, 2014 at 1:44 pm

I think the culture plays into it in your reaction, as well. I’m from NJ, was raised in a town where you were either Italian, Jewish, or both (Italians tend to be over-talkers as well, I think) and yet I’m the one who is constantly interrupted by my Southern co-workers.

I think the difference, though, is that I don’t really think anything of it. I just wait for them to finish whatever they’re saying and then go back to what I was saying. The one time that wasn’t true was when I was trying to train someone on a fairly intensive process. For about a month I would start a sentence, she would interrupt and finish it incorrectly and then I would reply with “no, actually it’s x.” I eventually had to start interrupting her in turn and sternly saying “let me finish.” Strangely enough she didn’t take too kindly to that.

Reply

Emma March 18, 2014 at 2:59 pm

Hm! A place like Nutley, Belleville or Passaic Park?

Reply

KAS March 18, 2014 at 3:59 pm

Or Cherry Hill?

Reply

Karowen March 18, 2014 at 5:18 pm

Close! Fair Lawn/Patterson. My dad is actually neither Italian nor Jewish but he married an Italian so he was accepted…barely.

Reply

Karowen March 18, 2014 at 5:20 pm

Whoops, Paterson. Now I feel sheepish…

Reply

KLH March 18, 2014 at 3:44 pm

I was going to say that that’s how I describe my upbringing in Monmouth County–”everyone was either Irish, Italian or Jewish, or a mix of two.”

Reply

MissDisplaced March 18, 2014 at 4:33 pm

I think that if you are from one of the bigger East Coast cities or regional areas you may tend to think those from the South speak more slowly and “drawl” it out. We seem to be fast talkers! LOL!

Reply

Chrissi March 18, 2014 at 12:47 pm

I was a chronic interrupter and one thing I had to do to stop it was to train myself not to jump in too quickly after someone finished (or so I thought) speaking. I learned to count to 5 before I talk. The amount of silence I am comfortable with or consider normal is just shorter than most peoples. I was able to change that eventually once I realized that my normal wasn’t everyone else’s normal. So could the problem (if there is one) be that you speak with longer pauses than most people (so, the opposite of my problem)? Most people “fill” silences with “umms” or something like it, so if you don’t (which, congratulations if so, you are a better speaker than most of us), or trail off your sentences, that might also be signaling to other people that you are done speaking.

I do think you’re attributing motives and emotions to what the other people are doing that are not there. You may feel dismissed, but that doesn’t mean that they are trying to be dismissive or are even aware of it. If you can get over that, it might put you in a better position to have a frank discussion with someone else about it too.

Reply

TL March 18, 2014 at 1:15 pm

Yup, I have this problem. My mouth and brain work a lot faster than most people’s, so I when I’m not in a situation where interrupting is okay, I have to take deep breaths and really listen for the “I’m done” pause.

Reply

Elizabeth West March 18, 2014 at 1:59 pm

I have the same problem. Like TL, I’m jumping around so fast that sometimes people have trouble following me. I’m going to try that count-to-five thing. :)

Someone said that having a conversation with me is like talking to the Doctor when he’s figuring out stuff aloud–”It could be this..but then that wouldn’t be true, would it? And then the alien would do that and then this and then that and this and look, a monkey!” I hear “Slow down!” a lot. >_<

Reply

Chrissi March 18, 2014 at 2:42 pm

I think it helps to be mindful of how often you are the person to jump in and move to the next subject (or even react to the last thought), assuming it’s a conversation with more than two people. If you are always the person that jumps in, that’s a bad thing. I knew I was doing it right when I was the next person to comment in the same proportion that I was a part of the group (i.e about 25% of the time for a group of 4). If you can’t stand to count all the way to five, just mentally make sure that you are taking turns.

Reply

Elizabeth West March 18, 2014 at 4:08 pm

Ooh, good additional point. Thanks!

Reply

LibKae March 19, 2014 at 10:45 am

I have a history of this problem too (for me, partially cultural/regional, but also ADHD, which I haven’t seen mentioned yet, but which also contributes hugely to interrupters — the old “ooh, look, a chicken!” problem). I live in a family of interrupters, where the ability to follow a complicated series of conversation shifts and flashbacks is a necessity, and I was well into adulthood before I realized how much it impacted people without that background. I try really really hard to pay more attention to it now, and when I catch myself having done it I try to return the conversation to them at the end (“I’m sorry, I got distracted by the chickens, you were telling me about your lousy weekend?”). I suspect, like others have said, you’re just more aware of it (and are working with people who aren’t).

Reply

LibKae March 19, 2014 at 10:46 am

Sorry! Just saw the post by L McD below (see — blurting my bit out before reading the whole thread :) )

Reply

EM March 18, 2014 at 12:47 pm

Something like this just happened to a friend of mine at work and she responded by saying, “Wow! That was really rude! I was mid-sentence and you just cut me off to talk about [completely unrelated topic].”

I’m not suggesting you do this, and apparently, this was a pattern with this one person (cutting my friend off on a consistent basis) — but The Interrupting Co-Worker was seemingly mortified, apologized in the moment, and then came over 2 hours later to apologize to my friend again.

So I think that shows that people who do this might not be doing so intentionally — it’s probably almost a subconscious habit that they don’t even realize about themselves.

Reply

Anon March 18, 2014 at 12:50 pm

based on the length of this letter, I think the OP just talks too much.

Reply

Ask a Manager March 18, 2014 at 12:58 pm

Based on this comment, someone might conclude you err on the more abrasive side of communications :)

I didn’t think the OP’s letter’s was problematic in length at all. She clearly described the problem and gave examples to ground it in reality.

Reply

Anonsie March 18, 2014 at 1:18 pm

Actually, I did think “this is still going?” maybe 1/2-2/3 of the way through the letter and had the urge to skip the ending entirely, which is unusual for me. I didn’t think about it until now.

Maybe haters gonna make some good points?

Reply

Anon March 18, 2014 at 4:22 pm

If the OP doesnt incluse enough information, we all complain that their vague and there are too many unknowns.

Op writes a long letter, we decide they are long winded.

Ops can’t win these days!

Reply

Anon for This! March 19, 2014 at 12:45 pm

After post note – this got really long-winded but I just wanted to say that I really do TRY not to be a hypocrite…

I agree – I thought the same and actually skipped over the middle half of the letter. Then I read these comments, felt bad, and went back to read the whole thing. And I still felt that it was too long, though very thoughtful. And after reading the whole thing, I really started to LIKE the OP. Weird, huh? Sometimes I have to remind myself to be patient.

I used to have someone who worked for me who was very long-winded both verbally and in written communication. We overcame the written part by teaching him to use bullet points. The verbal part was never resolved, though he did get better – maybe because of the use of the bullet points?

I tried meeting prep sessions where we would go over what he wanted to talk about. We would talk through it…over and over and over again. See, he is the type of guy where it takes talking it out multiple times for him to really process the information and disseminate it in a way that he’s comfortable speaking to.

My hope was that he’d be able to start doing this sort of prep work himself. And he kind of does now, just not well. This guy is brilliant, and fun to work with, and you just can’t help not liking him. But seeing a whole room of people fidgeting when he’s been speaking was heartbreaking, because they didn’t always know how great he was, just that he was boring the hell out of them while not presenting himself well. Everybody wants to sit next to him at dinner, but they’re not enthusiastic about being assigned to the same project team as him, if that makes sense.

So I guess my advice is to try writing in bullet points, then figure out how to translate that into speaking in bullet points, figuratively.

Reply

Anon March 18, 2014 at 6:30 pm

There’s no reason to assume writing style is an indication of speaking style. In fact, very reflective people, who are likely to write a lot, are often less talkative.

Reply

Mouse March 18, 2014 at 7:05 pm

+1

Reply

Another Constantly Interrupted Soul March 18, 2014 at 1:06 pm

Rude reply! And so not true.

In my personal experience, I know I talk too much around my husband (who never interrupts me), but not around my friends (who interrupt me often). My friends ALWAYS dominate any conversation and I felt like the OP was me writing in because I constantly get talked over on the rare occasion I can even get a word in edgewise. I think part of it is my quieter tone and that I don’t call most people out on it. It does mess with one’s confidence, though, especially if you already have social anxiety like I do. You start to question why you’re not good enough for people to listen to what you have to say.

My family interrupts me all the time as well, and even when I call my mom out on it (since she’s the biggest offender) she blames me and says she thought I was finished which is bull. I’ve asked a 3rd party who overheard the conversation what their take on it was and they said I was in the middle of speaking! No pauses or trailing off and yet she blames me. Is it any wonder I have to struggle not to talk too fast when my family claims I’ve stopped talking even when I haven’t? I just want to complete a thought! Is that so much to ask?

I think some people are just rude and then even more rude by never owning up to it.

Sorry for TALKING TOO MUCH here but this topic and then your rude reply struck a nerve. :)

Reply

fposte March 18, 2014 at 1:14 pm

I’m no fan of the Anon remark, but you said a thing that interested me: that you “don’t call most people out on it.” But I don’t think anybody regularly calls people out on being interrupted–it gets negotiated in the moment with signs and behaviors most of the time. The closest I see to calling out is “Hang on, let me finish this point.”

Reply

TL March 18, 2014 at 1:16 pm

“wait! wait! wait! I wanna finish my story!” is one my friend groups often use.

Reply

fposte March 18, 2014 at 1:20 pm

Oh, I like that one. It’s friendly and robust.

Reply

TL March 18, 2014 at 3:56 pm

Thanks!

Reply

some1 March 18, 2014 at 1:23 pm

I had a friend who would interrupt me constantly and I used Jack’s old line from Will & Grace, I’d point to myself and say “Girl Interrupted!”

Reply

A Bug! March 18, 2014 at 2:19 pm

“Knock Knock!”

“Who’s there?”

“Interrupting Cow!”

“Interrupting Cow who?”

“Interrupting Cow… YOU!”

Reply

TL March 18, 2014 at 3:48 pm

There’s a children’s book called Interrupting Chicken that’s hilarious.

Reply

Pam March 18, 2014 at 4:32 pm

Interrupting Chicken cracks me up! And I have a staff member who I secretly refer to as Interrupting Chicken…but only in my head.

Carpe Librarium March 18, 2014 at 10:09 pm

I personally like to use the Pirates of the Caribbean line: “*I’M* telling the story!” Although I only use that for anecdotes at parties.

Reply

Another Constantly Interrupted Soul March 18, 2014 at 1:16 pm

That’s what I meant by calling them out on it – I don’t indicate that they’ve interrupted me. I just get quiet and the conversation goes on as if I was never speaking to begin with.

Reply

TL March 18, 2014 at 3:57 pm

I think a lot of people just won’t notice or will assume you lost interest in what you were saying (in a group situation) if you just go silent.
Or they’ll get distracted by something shiny and forget you were speaking entirely.

Reply

Mouse March 18, 2014 at 7:09 pm

I hear ya. I almost feel like the people who are advocating for interrupting took over this thread :)

I think carefully listening to what others say is a good quality.

Reply

Hooptie March 19, 2014 at 12:54 pm

What struck me is where you say your mom said, “I thought you were finished”. Are you SURE you are not trailing off or giving some type of body language cue that you are done without realizing it? I know someone that does this and it is very frustrating from the other side. I try not to interrupt but am never quite sure when she is done speaking.

Reply

Mena March 18, 2014 at 12:54 pm

Since this is a recurring issue, I’m thinking this is about you and not those around you; you mention this happening in previous jobs and in your personal life too.

Are you long-winded? Slow in organizing your thoughts? Taking a while to get to the point? Perhaps you can ask a close friend with whom you are comfortable – this person could give you feedback on your communications patterns.

Also, how are your writing skills? Can you cohesively and consisely convey a point? Do you find yourself re-writing, re-organizing (sort of like conversation do-overs)? Are simple communications long?

Some people ‘think out loud’ while speaking, which may not always be effective in the workplace. Folks interrupting your with new topics for the group seems to be signalling something. It may be worth asking a few close friends or colleagues.

Reply

Celeste March 18, 2014 at 1:19 pm

It could be as simple as you just like to talk! I was listening to a lady at a historical farm giving lots of details about her work. Somebody thanked her for her time, and she said she loves to talk about these things, and most people think her tongue is loose at both ends. ;) I thought that was a sweet way to put it.

Personally I’m a big talker, and I know not to even get started during a tv commercial because I won’t be ready to quit when the show comes back on.

Reply

Leslie Yep March 18, 2014 at 12:58 pm

OP I could have written your letter. This has always happened to me too in social and work situations. I have a naturally kind of quiet voice, and I totally feel you on the statement about not wanting to ask for attention back to finish your just-making-conversation story.

I really don’t have an answer for you, unfortunately, though I do think there are just people who this happens to more often. One thing that sort of helped me was to watch for this when it happened to other people–how do they respond? It gave me more of a bank of strategies to use when it happens in situations I can’t avoid.

Another thing I’ve been thinking about is a general introvert/extravert distinction: often introverts think about what they’re about to say extensively and then only speak when they’re ready to convey the whole message. This is me to a T. Extraverts more often like to process by speaking out loud, or are more comfortable just sharing things as they come to mind. Asking an extravert to wait feels like disrespect for this more free-flowing style, and interrupting an introvert who has put so much thought into their idea before speaking makes them feel unheard or like their ideas are bad. If you are an introvert, or someone who thinks a lot before they speak, maybe consider how that might be coloring your perception of this. It was helpful for me to remember that for many of the people in my life who do this, it genuinely wouldn’t bother them to be interrupted because they don’t invest so much energy and importance into everything they prepare to say. For them it would be like knocking down the first two blocks in a tower; for me it’s basically end-stage Jenga. It helps to put in perspective that they probably don’t relate to the feeling I’m having at all, so it totally doesn’t register that this is actually very painful for me. That is, even if it is intentional, it’s not malicious at all.

Obviously not all introverts or extraverts are the same, your mileage may vary, etc., but as always the main thing you can control in this situation is you, so I hope these ideas help a little!

Good vibes your way, OP.

Reply

Cat March 18, 2014 at 1:04 pm

I don’t know if it’s an introvert/extrovert thing, because I feel like I know people in both categories who do both things but otherwise this makes a lot of sense to me. And I would go further – for some people, it’s not even like knocking over the first two bricks; they genuinely feel valued that someone is picking up their conversational thread and running with it because they feel like they’re collaboratively getting somewhere.

Reply

Leslie Yep March 18, 2014 at 5:23 pm

That’s an even better way of putting it – one side feels like the Jenga stack’s getting knocked down and the other side feels like it’s being added to. No wonder the confusion!

Reply

Wren March 19, 2014 at 11:45 am

It isn’t always true, of course, but that is a usual characteristic of introvert vs extrovert.

Reply

Ask a Manager March 18, 2014 at 1:25 pm

That’s fascinating. I’m very much an introvert, but I talk and think about conversation exactly in the way you described extroverts talking.

Reply

Colette March 18, 2014 at 1:56 pm

I’m also an introvert, and I definitely think out loud. I’m also an interrupter by nature (but have learned to be more conscious of it).

I don’t think it’s introvert/extrovert, but I’d be willing to believe it’s more about how comfortable a person is with speaking without thinking about it a lot in advance.

Reply

Suz March 18, 2014 at 2:47 pm

I’m an extrovert but communicate like this description of an introvert. Whenever I’ve taken the Myers-Briggs, I come out as extroverted on all of the “energy” questions and introverted on all of the communication questions.

Reply

Leslie Yep March 18, 2014 at 5:27 pm

All these comments are super interesting. Looks like this I/E divide isn’t too accurate! I came upon this idea in an article about encouraging introverted students’ participation in the classroom, so maybe that’s what’s got my mind working in that direction, but it’s interesting how cross-cutting these features are!

Reply

AJ-in-Memphis March 18, 2014 at 1:26 pm

I thought about the introvert/extrovert thing too…as I am an introvert and usually have the lowest voice in the room wherever I am. BUT it’s comes down to insisting you be heard. Insisting. Repeating the point until you’ve been heard. Until you’ve got your point across. (Just like that :) )

I have to do this with my boss, coworkers, friends and family – especially my mother. It’s always been like this for me and I’ve gotten to a point in my life where I will make them listen to me because I’m not just talking to hear myself speak orhave it blown off. My input matters and so does yours.

Reply

Leslie Yep March 18, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Generally, I agree and I’ve learned to be very insistent about this in professional settings or in important personal conversations.

In one of the situations the OP describes, though, where it’s mostly just casual chatter, I think this is really hard. If I’m saying something important I will definitely shout to be heard, but if someone interrupts me when I’m answering whether I liked that movie? It just seems like an overreaction to demand to finish my thought, but it still feels very rude to not even bother to segue.

Reply

Stemmie March 18, 2014 at 3:03 pm

Same here, I interrupt or stymie my interrupters at work, because there, I feel like I can’t afford to go unnoticed.

But I naturally get talked over in group conversations, especially when I don’t know people – parties, networking events, meeting new friends of friends – right from the start of my sentence. Once I noticed that the same thing happens constantly to my dad at family gatherings, I realized something must be off. So I started looking for patterns and noticed some things:
We wait just a tiny bit too long to “take the floor.”
Our opening volume level is too quiet.
We forget to make eye contact with the person we’re responding to, and our facial expressions don’t change much.

Fixing those solves some of the interrupting. It’s also made me rethink whether thing I want to say is actually going to enhance the conversation, because if I don’t have enough of a feeling that I’m jumping in immediately and it shows on my face, maybe I’m just going to say something boring.

Reply

fposte March 18, 2014 at 3:10 pm

The eye contact part is really fascinating. It made me realize what was so difficult about a notorious acquaintance who told long, droning, self-congratulatory stories–he had absolutely gripping eye contact so it was hard to intervene.

Reply

Aunt Vixen March 18, 2014 at 5:27 pm

I am a lifelong interrupter who has, in the past few years, developed the habit of raising my hand. This actually works really well in both professional and social situations – sit there with your hand raised for long enough and people start to realize you’re the only one allowing people to finish what they’re saying before you start to speak, which means many of the same people will then defend your right to do the same. Once you do get in.

Reply

pgh_adventurer March 18, 2014 at 1:43 pm

Really like the jenga example–that’s exactly how I see conversations.

Reply

Diane March 18, 2014 at 1:04 pm

When people interrupt you, why not be direct and right then and there say, “Hey, not sure if you realized it or not, but I wasn’t done speaking yet. Let me finish please.” That way you’re pointing out that it’s not OK to rudely interrupt and making them aware that you weren’t finished. Ignoring the fact that they talked over you might be reinforcing what they’re doing, that it’s OK, when it’s not.

Reply

VictoriaHR March 18, 2014 at 1:05 pm

This happens to me a lot also. I consider myself introverted, i.e. I don’t mind spending time by myself and enjoy my own company and don’t need other people around, but I can also hold my own in a conversation or meeting without feeling shy. I live in the Midwest; I don’t know if this is one of those regional things or not.

When it happens to me, I tend to stop mid-sentence and immediately go quiet until my next chance to speak without interrupting anyone else. Sometimes people notice that they’ve done it, and sometimes they don’t.

Reply

Another Constantly Interrupted Soul March 18, 2014 at 1:10 pm

I find that most people don’t notice (or at least don’t care so act like they don’t notice). It’s why I’ve actually found I prefer one-on-one convos with my friends as opposed to a group setting.

Reply

fposte March 18, 2014 at 1:11 pm

We haven’t raised the gender issue, and I don’t know that it’s relevant to the OP, but it sure can be to how people respond to interruption. I remember as a kid watching _Network_ and finding it an absolute revelation to see Faye Dunaway respond to an authoritative male interruption by raising her voice and continuing what she was saying. I wasn’t even trained to be particularly girly or subservient, but boy, somehow I got the message that you give up rather than stand your conversational ground, and it was really freeing to see it go the other way.

Reply

some1 March 18, 2014 at 1:07 pm

Any chance the subject you are speaking about is making people uncomfortable?

When that happens to me at work, I can’t wait to change the subject because I don’t want to go there if my coworker is talking about something that makes me feel uncomfortable to listen to. (Like gossip or discussing politics.)

I did get a tad whiff of a victim complex from your letter, so I wonder if you are coming off that way to other people and they feel uncomfortable listening to you put yourself down or being upset at things that don’t seem like a big deal.

Reply

Stemmie March 18, 2014 at 3:08 pm

That’s a pretty big assumption there re: the victim complex. Also, I think the OP questioning their own possible contribution to the problem and looking for advice are not the acts of someone with a victim mentality.

OP, good on you for building your social navigation skills.

Reply

HR Lady March 18, 2014 at 1:14 pm

I’ve done some reading about different cultures where interrupting is the norm (and totally acceptable). Alison is right – there are many people like this in the US. I think it tends to be people who have Mediterranean heritage (Greece, Italy, etc.), but I could be wrong.

It’s funny because in other cultures/families (like mine), interrupting is seen as incredibly rude and almost a mortal sin.

Google and see what you find. I have to say, it wasn’t easy for me to find it with Google (and I usually have pretty good Google fu), so be persistent.

Reply

TL March 18, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Jamaican culture is big into interrupting! One of my roommates has a culturally Jamaican mother and one of her classes made a big fuss about respecting others – being sensitive to cultural and class differences, ect… – and also not interrupting ever. She was really frustrated by it.

Reply

fposte March 18, 2014 at 1:21 pm

I confess that when I’m in synch with a fellow interrupter that’s the best, most collaborative conversation.

Reply

TL March 18, 2014 at 1:22 pm

:) Yes, absolutely. I’m definitely an interrupted and my best conversations are with fellow interrupters.

Reply

HR Lady March 18, 2014 at 1:26 pm

I once discussed this with an interrupter and she said, “please, interrupt me! I want to hear what you have to say, but I’ll keep talking unless someone stops me.” She said in her family growing up, everyone interrupted everyone, and it was the only way to get a word in edgewise.

Reply

Ask a Manager March 18, 2014 at 1:23 pm

Me too — I perceive it as that we’re both intensely engaged.

Reply

Kristen March 18, 2014 at 1:44 pm

This is so interesting! I’m glad to learn of that perception from my would-die-mortified-if-I-interrupted perspective, and it helps me see how it may not mean someone is disrespecting me when she interrupts (most of the time, some people are just rude). I think it may always annoy me some, but thanks for the context, interrupters of the world!

Reply

De (Germany) March 18, 2014 at 1:53 pm

In my family, you wouldn’t get much of a word in if you constantly waited for everyone to be finished. My husband’s family is different and so I have to be careful to not just talk all over him. I don’t mean to be rude, I just don’t see the need to have the whole sentence finished before replying to the point. Interesting how many people here see to think of it as just “plain rude” and showing disrespect for the other person…

Reply

Leslie Yep March 18, 2014 at 2:07 pm

Hmm, but that doesn’t quite seem to be what the OP is talking about. I feel less discomfort if we’re dynamically building on each other’s ideas and pushing and pulling in basically the same direction (it’s not my cup of tea, but it’s not a problem for me) but I find the conversation shuts down or feels uncomfortable to me when someone else interrupts to change the subject without a segue or without acknowledging that you were talking.

Reply

Kristen March 18, 2014 at 2:22 pm

That’s a really good point, and I’d say it matches my feelings on interruptions during the course of engaging conversations vs. just being interrupted out of the blue or shut down.

Reply

Ask a Manager March 18, 2014 at 2:35 pm

Oh yeah, I didn’t mean to propose it’s happening to the OP – -just spinning off on fposte’s comment about being in in synch with a fellow interrupter!

Reply

fposte March 18, 2014 at 2:56 pm

And I was building on TL et al. I think we kind of mimicked the original problem right there–we built our own jenga.

Reply

Leslie Yep March 18, 2014 at 4:10 pm

So I…uh…kinda interrupted your thread to change the subject, with a comment about how annoying it is to interrupt and change the subject? Crumbs! Sorry and thanks for clarifying! :)

Celeste March 18, 2014 at 4:13 pm

That’s brilliant.

College Career Counselor March 18, 2014 at 3:10 pm

The interruption as demonstrating intense engagement is interesting. I used to call that “active listening” (I know”active listening” is different than interrupting) and didn’t think much of it when I worked on the east coast. Because that’s what everyone I worked with DID. Out west (not the coast), this was viewed as off-putting and stifling effective conversation. Know your culture!

I think there are people whose conversational demeanor (e.g. quiet, tentative/halting, trailing off, repetitive, slow to get information out) signals that it’s okay to interrupt them, even for something trivial. Note I don’t agree with this behavior, but at times I find myself doing it and have to stop, apologize and try not to do it again.

Not saying those qualities above describe the OP’s conversational style. Just a suggestion–perhaps a slightly more forceful tone during work conversations might help signal that you hold the floor?

Reply

JustKatie March 18, 2014 at 5:27 pm

Me too! I think people who meet me and my husband initially feel like we much be at each others’ throats much of the time, when in reality we’re having a ball. We both like to think quickly and out loud.

Reply

some1 March 18, 2014 at 1:21 pm

I notice it most when I’m with my brothers. As a kid, you vie for attention with your siblings and try to control the conversation. That can be a hard sibling dynamic to get out of.

Reply

TL March 18, 2014 at 1:43 pm

Me too! Though my brothers and I are a pretty funny bunch (or at least we all have the same sense of humor) so it works out for the best.

Reply

Ellie H. March 18, 2014 at 1:36 pm

I find myself interrupting people all the time. It’s partly learned – my dad is a huge interrupter and it drives my mom crazy. She points out when he interrupts her. It can definitely bother me too, but I also usually interrupt back. The culture at my job is pretty interrupt-y (lots of fast talkers) and I find myself interrupting a lot in my personal life, with friends, which I really don’t like. I try to be as conscious of it as I can be, and when I notice that I have, I try to say “I’m sorry, I interrupted you. What were you in the middle of saying?” I’m trying to train myself to recognize better when I am doing it.

As many others, I’ve also read literature on how in different cultures within the US (I hear it most typically said of NYC culture) it’s even polite to interrupt or talk over the end of sentences, because it means you are excited and engaged in the conversation. I definitely can relate to this In the big scheme of things though, maybe it’s better to focus on listening more actively and trying to have a calmer, more reflective conversational dynamic some of the time.

Reply

Relosa March 18, 2014 at 1:14 pm

Dear OP, thugs like this happen to me all the time. Like you, I also thought about it and realized at least part of it had to be me. I can be long winded, or accidentally go off topic. But I also realized that like Alison said, it can be other people too. By nature I am just a chatty person and conversation is *really* important to me, but not always as much to others. That doesn’t make me a lesser person and it certainly doesn’t mean others are inferior because they aren’t as verbal as I am. It’s just something that I have accepted. Sometimes it stings a little if it is something of particular importance to me, but I just remind myself how I know I am and how I know that other person and it smooths out…there is a balance!

Now, something that does get my goat is when I am holding a meeting, training, or leading a discussion and there is side conversation. I don’t mind being interrupted for something on task but it annoys me to no end when others hold entirely separate conversations while I’m trying to lead one. My action at that point is to simply stop talking until the rude people notice and stop…then I ask them if it’s anything I should know about or if we can continue the discussion :)

Reply

CB March 18, 2014 at 1:18 pm

I had a co-worker once who reminds me of you. She was really nice and sweet but I think she just didn’t understand normal conversation flow. Some of us would be chatting about non work related things and this woman would join the conversation and just steer it way off track and keep going down a road that wasn’t the original intent of the conversation. I don’t know that we’d intentionally interrupt her, but sometimes we’d just change the subject probably before she was thinking she was ready to be done. I’ve known a few people like this who just seemed to not have the instincts to participate well in the flow of the conversation. It might help to just do more observing of how topics change in a conversation that you’re not participating in and see if you’re tending to stick to one thing longer than everyone else might seem to.

Reply

some1 March 18, 2014 at 1:30 pm

My best friend is like this, too. She’s such a passionate person that I don’t think she even realizes it.

Reply

Mena March 18, 2014 at 3:49 pm

And sometimes that casual chatter in the workplace goes on too long! There is a point where the casual chatter becomes inappropriately long in the workplace. Then a cut-off is necessary.

Reply

TL March 18, 2014 at 1:21 pm

I have a few friends who speak slowly with long pauses. I’m a quick talker and thinker and while their words are often better considered than mine, it can drive me crazy waiting for them to reach their darn conclusion!

In a one-on-one situation, I’ll wait and be patient but I’m less likely to be as considerate in a large group situation where the witty banter is flowing.

Reply

Karowen March 18, 2014 at 1:55 pm

I have the unfortunate habit of generally speaking quickly but occasionally having to stop to determine what makes the most sense to make next. The problem is that while I’m marshaling my thoughts, people who are used to my normal speaking pattern assume I’m done and start talking.

Reply

Sydney March 18, 2014 at 6:43 pm

I’m an Interrupter with ADD. Sometimes when a NonInterrupter takes [what I consider] forever to get to the end of their point, I’ve forgotten the whole first part. I have to really concentrate on their words, literally telling myself in my head to pay attention, or I’ll end up missing the gist.

Luckily, I’m in Interrupter Country so it doesn’t happen too often. This post has taught me that I better not move to the midwest.

Reply

HR Lady March 18, 2014 at 1:22 pm

I agree with others about giving some thought to whether you are long-winded. My mom and I like to tell stories, so we like to build up the suspense and then get to the main point at the end. I even used to do this in a professional setting where there was no need to be dramatic.

My spouse pointed out to me that I was often getting to the point at the end, and that was sometimes confusing. So now I often think “what is my point” and say that first. For example, “do you know where the X is? Because usually I find it in there, but maybe someone moved it to here, and I really need it to do LMNOP.” Instead of saying “I usually find X in there, but maybe someone moved it to here, and I really need it to do LMNOP. Do you know where it is?”

I also had a coach who encouraged me to think about what I want out of the conversation (what is my objective). Am I asking them for help, informing them, asking for something to change, asking for information, etc.? Sometimes that makes me realize that I don’t really know what I’m asking for, or why I’m talking. So then I don’t talk until I know what I want.

Reply

Marie March 18, 2014 at 1:52 pm

I had to learn that, too – specially in relation to emails to my bosses. I found that if I make it as easy as possible to process, I get faster and better answers out of people.

Reply

Carpe Librarium March 18, 2014 at 10:58 pm

See, I have a problem where I will make my point of “I think the sky is multi-coloured, relative to the time of day and location of the observer because of Rayleigh scattering and night time.” but get interrupted after ‘multi-coloured’ by someone saying “No, sky is blue because look out the window.”

Reply

Carpe Librarium March 18, 2014 at 11:07 pm

Then I say, “Well, yes. But–” and they say “Thank you, moving on.” and later I go home and explain to the dishes as I wash them that I had a perfectly valid and reasonable opinion, and rude interrupter is an inconsiderate rudy-pants.”

Reply

Jen RO March 19, 2014 at 6:22 am

I am like that too, I like to tell stories and explain the setup in detail… and my boyfriend hates it, so he is always interrupting me and telling me to get to the point. On the other hand, *I* hate his interrupting! (We do tend to argue about it.) To him, the conclusion is the important part; to me, getting to the conclusion is important.

Reply

Sarah March 18, 2014 at 1:22 pm

I’m wondering if it’s how she is or is not engaging people when she speaks. Does she maintain eye contact? I would find it hard to begin an entirely different conversation if someone was engaging me in the conversation.

Reply

Victoria Nonprofit (USA) March 18, 2014 at 1:33 pm

I agree with what everyone is saying: This happens all the time and it’s probably not specific to you.

But I can think of two things you might be doing (things that I sometimes do; that’s why they’re easy for me to identify) that encourage people to talk over you:

1) Going on too long. Do you ramble in your explanation of things? Delve into the background of a story rather than quickly hitting the plot points? I can be long-winded in this way, and more than once I’ve had someone say directly to me: “Ok, enough background. What’s the punch line?” Perhaps talking over you is another strategy people are using to try to wrap you up more quickly.

2) Not letting others get a word in edgewise. If you’re dominating the conversation (whether by constantly speaking up, interjecting when others speak, or going on too long – or a combination), it’s possible that folks feel like they have to jump on top of what you’re saying in order to have a chance to say anything at all.

Of course I don’t know if either of these are true of you, so I hope this isn’t hurtful. Just throwing some ideas out there!

Reply

Cadie March 18, 2014 at 1:35 pm

For anyone who is not on the shy side of things, it can help if you call people out for interrupting someone ELSE. Like, “Hey, sorry, you just interrupted Mike and I wanted to hear the rest of his thought.” I have to do this on a regular basis both professionally and with my friends, because I know a LOT of interrupters. I’ve found it comes off as less awkward/harsh and takes the burden off of the interruptee to risk being seen as “touchy” (or whatever). And you don’t risk having one or two people monopolize the conversation while the quieter (some would say “politer,” but as discussed above, that can be cultural) people’s thoughts never get heard.

Reply

Darcy Pennell March 18, 2014 at 2:53 pm

I don’t usually have the nerve to call out someone for interrupting someone else, but I do sometimes jump in and say to the interrupted person, “What were you saying about your trip?” (or whatever they were talking about.) The “…before so-and-so interrupted you?” is unsaid, but usually pretty clear :)

Reply

TL March 18, 2014 at 3:51 pm

Ha! I do this if I interrupt someone and I’m not sure they’re the interrupting type. “Oh, but I heard X, Y, Z! SO COOOLL….anyway, what were you saying about chocolate teacups?”

Reply

Cath@VWXYNot? March 18, 2014 at 4:33 pm

Heh, yes, I do that too, Darcy!

Reply

Joey March 18, 2014 at 1:40 pm

I’ve caught myself doing this on occasion-interrupting people. Usually when I find myself doing it its because:

1. The person is taking a really long time to get to the point.
2. The person is repeating something they’ve already told me.
3. I’m in a rush for reasons unrelated to the speaker.
4. Someone is interrupting me while I’m in the middle of doing something important.
5. Whining.

Yes, I know. Bad habit

Reply

Anonathon March 18, 2014 at 1:42 pm

I’ve seen something similar happen with my sibling. When you talk, do you feel that it’s essential to have everyone quiet and focused on you first? That preference makes sense, and people obviously should be attentive and polite when it’s your turn (say, in a meeting context). But sometimes that won’t happen, and you’ll keep starting over or pausing as you wait for the focus to shift. So you may need to tell yourself that it’s okay to plow forward when you don’t have the room’s 100% attention yet. Be confident and on topic, and let the darn side conversations die down on their own.

Reply

Anonathon March 18, 2014 at 1:54 pm

PS: This is not to say that “people are rude, deal with it.” More that you often won’t have optimal conditions for speaking your piece, but embracing that can be kinda empowering.

Reply

Anonymous March 18, 2014 at 1:52 pm

I’ve noticed something similar and I also wonder if it’s me – someone will ask me a question and I’ll answer, but I will see them mentally check out about half way through my first or second sentence. It’s like they only really were interested in one word response, which is understandable in small talk, but when you are in a more in depth conversation it can be a bit annoying. I’ve also noticed that a lot of people will walk up to a two-person conversation and just butt in. I’ve done that as well, I do confess, but only for urgent things like – “I found that document you need for the meeting, it’s on your desk. Sorry.” and moving on. But I’ve noticed that most people will just start a new conversation. I am long winded too, and I wonder if people’s attention spans are just shorter than they used to be.

Reply

Jess March 18, 2014 at 6:14 pm

Oh, I hate this, especially when the new conversation is directed toward only one of the participants. To me, it signals that the other participant isn’t important.

Reply

De Minimis March 18, 2014 at 1:53 pm

I have a similar issue, I think I have trouble with conversational cues and determining where I fit in a conversation.

I don’t have a great solution…I tend to just not talk as much as I otherwise would. Sometimes I do better than other times.

Reply

Suz March 18, 2014 at 1:55 pm

OP, Are you sure you’re still talking when people interrupt you? I know this seems like a weird thing to ask but I’m bringing it up because I’ve experienced it. My ex-husband used to quit talking mid-sentence all the time. He’d finish the sentence in his head but he thought he was saying the entire thing out loud. Then he’d get mad at people because he didn’t think they were paying attention to what he was saying. It took several years of me pointing it out before he accepted that that’s what he was doing. He never did get over that habit but he did finally realize people weren’t interrupting him all the time.

Reply

Suz March 18, 2014 at 2:01 pm

Also, he wasn’t just pausing to organize his thoughts, like others have described. He truly thought he was still speaking.

Reply

Anonymous March 18, 2014 at 3:54 pm

“He truly thought he was still speaking.”

I hope he’s can get help for that.

Reply

LV March 18, 2014 at 2:12 pm

Sometimes I have trouble remembering if I really did say something to my husband or whether I just *thought* about saying it. And sometimes I’ll say it out loud but think I just thought it, and then I get weirded out when he replies! For some reason it only happens with him, though.

Reply

TL March 18, 2014 at 2:55 pm

I have the opposite problem.

Reply

Jen S. 2.0 March 18, 2014 at 4:32 pm

??!?!?!?!?!!!! Seriously? People do that????

Reply

Not So NewReader March 18, 2014 at 8:39 pm

It’s the opposite problem from when people say, “Whoops, was that my out loud voice?”

I have thought things in my head, and suddenly realized people around me are laughing. Yep. I said it out loud. Crud. I have done this two or three times. It happens mostly when I am reeeeally tired.

So it makes sense to me that a person could be lost in thought and be convinced that they had said X or Y out loud, when they actually had not.

Reply

AnonHR March 18, 2014 at 1:56 pm

This happens to me ALL the time in my personal life, but never at work. It drives me crazy, and I always think about why it is (do I tell super boring stories? Am I on a tangent? Am I talking too slow?), but I never really thought about why it happens with my friends all the time but not at work… hmm…

I also sometimes think that it has something to do with the type of people I attract/am attracted to. I get kind of a yin and yang thing going with people who are more talkative and assertive in my personal life, and even if I do tell super boring stories, I am also probably interrupted because I’m more of the “sounding board” person in my social group of a bunch of talkers, so it just seems natural to them. Maybe that’s just the culture you’re in at work.

On a (probably boring/tangential!) side note, one huge thing I appreciate about my husband is that while he DOES have a big personality and likes to talk and be the center of attention, he never ever interrupts me like this. It’s a nice break from my regular social circle.

Reply

Sydney March 18, 2014 at 6:56 pm

Based on this comment alone, I bet it’s not really about your speaking habits, but about your interrupter friends since it’s not at work (unless perhaps you have a super non-interrupter culture).

I’m an interrupter with ADD. It’s hard for me to listen to someone’s entire point without getting distracted. It’s incredibly hard for me to listen to someone’s entire point when they’re taking awhile to get there, or giving too much background/extraneous details.

Since you’re attracting friends with interrupter-qualities, you’ll probably have to reign them in occasionally. I noticed that sometimes I’m especially bad about interrupting, usually because I’m excited, antsy, grumpy, impatient, [insert other excuses here that have nothing to do with the other person]. I told my boss (we have the rapport where I can comfortably do this, so YMMV) that when I get bad about it and he wants to finish his thought to interrupt me right back. I often don’t realize what I’m doing, and usually it’s not about the other person.

Reply

Not So NewReader March 18, 2014 at 8:42 pm

This is my question to the OP also. Are you continuously picking people who are interrupters? It could be that when you first meet these people you think they are fun/engaged/interesting. As time marches on you become aware, “dang,this person interrupted me again.”

Reply

L McD March 18, 2014 at 1:58 pm

I agree that there are a LOT of people out there who have an interrupting habit. This is just one of many explanations that doesn’t involve deliberate rudeness, but it can be a big hallmark of ADD/ADHD – which we’re just now beginning to recognize as being pretty widespread in adult populations.

Concentration problems mean that ADD folks are not always aware they’re interrupting a conversation, because their brain is just refusing to process that it’s happening right at that moment. We also sometimes blurt things out as soon a they pop into our heads, as a way of coping with the memory problems that go along with the difficulty concentrating/processing. If I think of something I need to ask somebody, and they’re in the middle of talking to someone else, there is a VERY good chance I will completely forget what it is before that person finishes their sentence. It’s living a constant state of “what did I come into this room for?”

I make a conscious effort not to be rude, but the impulse to blurt is strong, and it takes me more effort than most people to take in what’s happening around me, and decide what’s appropriate. Most of the time I’m conscientious to a fault, but when my brain switches into OMG OMG OVERDRIVE! THIS NEEDS TAKING CARE OF RIGHT NOW! it sort of shuts everything else off. It’s difficult to describe, but it’s not intentionally rude, even though that is definitely how it comes across.

Anyway, maybe that helps to re-frame things a bit. It’s nothing you can solve, but you can try to notice if they do it to everyone. If they truly don’t, it’s possible that your communication style IS doing something to invite it, but I’m not really sure how – you seem to have ruled out all the obvious issues already. I do think it’s interesting that people brought up the “unintentionally long pause” thing. I do that too, because I’ll sometimes lose myself in thought mid-sentence, but I’m still very much actively trying to communicate something. I just don’t give any outward signs of it. If you’re doing something like that, you might be signaling “I’m done talking” without realizing it. It’s usually pretty hard to judge or notice our own speech patterns. I had to have it pointed out to me.

Reply

MousyNon March 18, 2014 at 5:13 pm

Yup yup yup. I’ve never interrupted somebody to make a completely irrelevant comment (i.e. “So I was talking to this guy…” “I HAD A SANDWICH AND IT WAS DELICIOUS), but I do interrupt frequently because people tend to make multi-part comments/questions, and it’s impossible for my ADD brain to keep track of all of the information AND be able to organize a response that touches on everything. The options for someone conversing with me are a) only get a response that addresses the very last part of a conversation because that’s all my brain can recall or b) get interrupted but get responses to each segment of a conversation.

I’m under comprehensive treatment, but there’s no magical cure-all, and interrupting is something I simply can’t control. I’ve had success in other ADD trouble-spots due to treatment, but not the interrupting habit. I’d love to be able to fix this, but I have limited resources and frankly getting my work done accurately and on-time is more important to me than not hurting somebody’s feelings because they take the symptoms of my illness personally.

Reply

Kerr March 18, 2014 at 6:47 pm

Ooh. This is interesting. I’m pretty sure I don’t have ADD, but I completely identify with the feeling of not being able to hold all of a multi-point conversation in my brain. I’ve noticed that it’s not always as bad as I think it’ll be if I take the time to very actively listen, but if it’s a long-winded answer, I want to be able to interject my answers to individual points as they come up, or I’ll lose them. My response will be tailored to the last points in the conversation. And then I’ll remember all the missing parts five minutes later.

Reply

MousyNon March 19, 2014 at 9:49 am

Yup, that’s what happens to me. Unfortunately, while I’ve tried active listening, I just can’t stop my brain from whizzing ahead of the conversation–it literally feels like being on a roller coaster I never realized I got onto. It’s very strange. And just like you, I end up recalling all of the other bits of a conversation I missed ages later, when it’s no longer relevant, but I’m like “crap, that could’ve helped them” or something. I’d much rather interrupt somebody and be able to discuss all of their points, rather than “fake it” by just responding to the very last thing they said, but I understand some people might find it off-putting.

For me, I have a triple-whammy when it comes to interrupting habits. I’m a New Yorker, I’m latina, and I’ve got ADD. Basically, it’s a perfect storm of interrupting. Thankfully, most people just let it roll off of their backs. A couple of times people (never locals–actually, the incident I’m thinking of was with a midwesterner-to-southerner transplant, which makes all of the threads here about culture really interesting) people have gotten offended, but I just have to “meh” the whole thing.

Reply

Sydney March 18, 2014 at 7:01 pm

I have this same problem. I try to write things down when I know I can’t blurt due to the situation. Works sometimes.

Reply

LibKae March 19, 2014 at 10:51 am

Yes! Perfect description of what it feels like. In work situations I try really hard to wait until a conversational break to speak, but I’ll admit that I often slip when talking with friends/family (especially if I’m really excited about something or really into the conversation). In those situations, I try to remember to redirect the conversation back to them when I’ve finished my tangent (“I’m sorry, I interrupted, you were telling me about …”) — though I’ll admit that that might not be any less annoying for them and might just be to assuage my guilt.

Reply

Lindsay March 18, 2014 at 1:59 pm

My advice (after considering all of the questions Alison posed – cultural differences, speech patterns, being concise) is to just keep talking. If they interrupt you, keep talking until they realize that they’re talking over you. It’ll be awkward, but keep going. Or say, “excuse me, I’m not quite finished yet” or “let me finish my thought.” I kept getting interrupted in meetings and it drove me crazy.

Reply

Cath@VWXYNot? March 18, 2014 at 2:05 pm

GAAH pet peeve, PET PEEVE!

I absolutely hate it when people do this. I’ve encountered it a lot more often in Canada than I ever did in the UK, and much more often among my husband’s group of friends than with my own friends and colleagues (the latter group being mostly academics with lots of formal education, which may be a factor). There are definitely some people who are repeat offenders, and a subset of that group who don’t even seem to notice they’re doing it; in contrast, whenever my husband does it to me or someone else (which is less often now that he knows how much it bugs me), he’ll at least notice and apologise.

I thought some helpful advice might occur to me while writing that rant, but apparently I’m too annoyed now. Sorry, OP.

Reply

LV March 18, 2014 at 2:06 pm

I have no helpful advice, but I sympathize. I have a colleague who does this all the time. She’ll ask me a question, and then talk over me as I am answering it. I know she doesn’t do it on purpose, but it feels dismissive and disrespectful, especially since most of the time she talks over me only to rephrase the question again and again.

Reply

Kimmy March 18, 2014 at 2:11 pm

This happens to me all the time at work, and I don’t talk slowly. The worst is when we’re in a meeting and my manager asks me a question. I’m giving a concise answer, and she interrupts with her next thought. If I keep talking (since other people need to hear my answer too) then she just raises her voice and plows on. I hate this.

This is the first job I’ve worked with jerks of this caliber, though. Never been a problem before.

Reply

Anonymous March 18, 2014 at 2:20 pm

Some people are great at commanding attention in a conversation. Other need to work at it, usually because of some of the following: (1) they’re long-winded, (2) they make long pauses, (3) they fail to continually gauge reaction/mood of audience, and/or (4) they’re being too polite, to the point that they are *always* yielding to others.

For the OP, I would try to experiment a bit. Try shorter exchanges without pauses to see if the interruptions still occur. As you’re talking, keep an eye on your audience to see if they’re losing focus or interest in what you’re saying. This can be a clue that an interruption is coming. Finally, stop being a doormat in your conversations. If someone tries to interrupt, don’t automatically yield to them! Keep talking, and talk louder if needed. If they do the same, say something like, “Excuse me, I’d like to finish this thought.” If you’re in a meeting and a side conversation starts, say something like, “Excuse me. I’d like us all to have one conversation here. As I was saying….” Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if you need to “retrain” some folks in your life to accommodate your new conversation confidence.

Reply

Jill March 18, 2014 at 2:25 pm

I have a friend who insists on finishing a story. What I mean is, if a group of us are chatting, and the conversation flows in a natural manner from one topic into another, with everyone minding their manners throughout….if she had a thought from Topic 1 and didn’t get to express it, she will insist on trying to go back to her story over and over even when the conversation has clearly moved onto a different topic.

It’s annoying and it disjangles the whole chat. But that’s why she gets cut off. Is this maybe what you do? Just a thought…

Reply

Stemmie March 18, 2014 at 3:21 pm

Can you be so sure everyone was minding their manners if she never got her thought out to begin with? Have you tried letting her finish? It sounds like she never gets to say much in your circle – it must be very frustrating to have friends that don’t want to hear what you have to say. Maybe she wouldn’t be trying to constantly jump back in if she just had a chance to finish her thought.

Is the real problem that she’s repeating a thought rather than elaborating it?

Reply

Mena March 18, 2014 at 3:51 pm

Sometimes group conversations take a turn in a different direction. It isn’t a single speaker’s monologue so sometimes one just doesn’t get to finish.

Reply

Stemmie March 18, 2014 at 6:21 pm

Sure, sometimes one doesn’t. But Jill doesn’t say this happens “sometimes.” And it happens to the one friend, not to all of them. And the friend keeps “trying to go back,” not actually succeeding in repeating herself. She doesn’t say that they used to suffer from her monologues until they began cutting her off. She says that the friend “trying to go back” is “why she gets cut off” – cutting her off makes them cut her off! Maybe the situation is more complex than she’s described here, but the available information just sounds a bit sad.

I have a friend who regularly lags a topic or two behind – we do razz him a little about it, but he’s our friend, so of course we want to hear what he has to say! He talks for a turn, and we don’t get in his way while he finishes his thought (which is usually a pretty good one). Letting someone finish a thought now and then is not the same as getting bulldozed by a monologue.

Reply

holly March 18, 2014 at 2:43 pm

this happens to me a lot too. i don’t talk very loudly, but it’s horribly annoying.

i also think i might do this to people, usually if i have a thought and feel like i might forget it if i wait for them to finish speaking (bad habit!) but i also have a hard time jumping into a conversation.

Reply

Parfait March 18, 2014 at 3:09 pm

I work with a chronic interrupter. One thing I sometimes do is announce “this is kind of a complex problem, so please let me get all the way to the end before giving your thoughts. I will let you know when I am done. OK?” And I wait for his agreement before proceeding.

Then if he interrupts I feel no compunctions about saying, “Please, let me finish, as we agreed.”

For shorter comments I’ll either just keep talking, or I’ll stop but raise a finger so everyone in the meeting knows I had more to say, and then resume as soon as he shuts up.

If what I was saying wasn’t all that important, then I will let it go.

I can’t make him change but I can change how I react to him and keep from allowing my points to get steamrollered.

I do also work with someone who won’t stop talking until you interrupt. They just keep reiterating their point over and over, rephrasing and rephrasing, until someone finally can’t take it anymore and interrupts. If being interrupted bothers you, please make sure this isn’t you.

Reply

Dan March 18, 2014 at 3:24 pm

I haven’t read through the almost 150 comments here so far, but I’ll throw this in:

I used to work with a girl who would mumble when she was thinking. So, if she was presenting a coherent thought and then needed to think, she would start speaking more authoritatively, but then soften up and mumble. You couldn’t hear her, but she was definitely still talking. It was nerve wracking.

Reply

Paul Romainen t March 18, 2014 at 3:25 pm

In 1774, John Adams (future president of the US) visited NYC for the first time. He really disliked New Yorkers, particularly for one characteristic. He wrote in his diary, “They talk very loud, very fast and altogether, and if they ask you a question, before you can utter 3 words of your answer, they will break out upon you again — and talk away.”

Reply

Anonymous March 18, 2014 at 3:38 pm

I wonder if it could be a combination of things.

It could definitely be culture, possibly your company culture. I worked for a company where people were aggressive and ALWAYS cutting one another off. After I moved on, I realized I had started to cut people off myself and really had to make an effort to stop.

On the other hand, I also worked with a co-worker who didn’t necessarily take a long time to get his thoughts out, but would always explain one single point multiple ways. He wasn’t being patronizing or aggressive but that was just his conversational style; he would just state pretty much the same thing over and over, with slight alterations. So a lot of the time when speaking to him, the conversation would take way longer than necessary with him doing most of the speaking. I ended up often trying to find the little breaks between his sentences so I could interject; otherwise I’d never be able to get a word in.

Reply

Elsajeni March 18, 2014 at 4:18 pm

Yes, I think it’s interesting how many possible variables have come up in the comments — the cultures individual speakers were raised in, the office culture, gendered expectations about how you behave in a conversation, speaking habits like pausing to collect your thoughts, natural volume level, natural speaking pace and length of pauses, and then some! I’ve been thinking about it, because I used to have a similar problem in an old group of housemates, and for me I think it was a perfect storm of many of these. (I was the only woman; I had the quietest voice; I do tend to speak slowly and pause to collect my thoughts; my housemates generally had a higher “interruption” tolerance than I did, and would trade off interrupting each other, where I would just yield the floor after being cut off; and so forth.)

Reply

Anonymosity March 18, 2014 at 3:50 pm

My dad has a really great go-to phrase for when someone interrupts him: “Oh, I’m *so* sorry to keep talking while you were interrupting me!” I have yet to work up the confidence to use it, but I think it’s pretty wonderful.

Reply

TL March 18, 2014 at 3:54 pm

That’s pretty rude. There may be times when it’s warranted, but I’d only use it if every other avenue had been exhausted.

Reply

Anonymous March 18, 2014 at 4:42 pm

I could see this working, if it was said in good humor and perhaps with a wink. But if you weren’t careful, *you* could end up looking like the rude one!

Reply

Jen RO March 19, 2014 at 6:27 am

I love this! It wouldn’t work with everyone, but I could definitely see myself shutting up a friend with this.

Reply

PSB March 18, 2014 at 4:03 pm

I’d never thought about it before but I’m just chiming in to say that this is almost certainly a cultural difference. I’m an introvert without ADD, yet I find myself interrupting my girlfriends all the time. I’m from Jersey and they’re primarily Southern. It’s not a sign that I’m not listening; to the contrary, I only interrupt when I’m very engaged in the conversation.

The thing is though, I wouldn’t speak this way at work unless I were talking to a close friend about something unrelated to our jobs. Even in my personal life, when talking with non-interrupters I tend to realize too late that I’ve interrupted their train of thought and prompt them to go back to what they were talking about (“sorry, you were saying X”).

Reply

Oops March 18, 2014 at 4:13 pm

My mother has a way of talking where her tone-change and also length of pauses often causes me to think she’s finished when she in fact is apparently planning to continue. Sometimes it’s in a place where it looks like she stopped mid-sentence and forgot to continue, but often it’s in a location where I genuinely think she’s done.

My father and I often end up talking over her because of this – though we don’t realise we’re talking over her. We consider ourselves to be talking once she’s done but she often gets upset, saying we interrupt her a lot etc. She has complained of other people generally doing this to her.

(Also, I’m aware the problem is aggravated when it’s me she’s talking to cause I have a tendency to interrupt probably more often than is usually considered polite, though I’m aware I do this and try to stop myself, or realise when I have done it and then apologise and stop talking to let the original speaker continue).

Perhaps this problem is a bit of a mixed clash like this. The OP may have a tendency to talk in a way that seems to indicate to people she might be finishing or about to finish her sentence, and the people interrupting tend to be people who more commonly interrupt.

One particular thing my mom does is she doesn’t say ‘um’ or ‘er’ or other fillers like that much when talking, and tends to leave a blank gap instead. Sometimes if it’s because she’s thinking of the word she wants, the gap can seem weirdly long and so I think she’s finished, even if it’s an odd place.

And on an unrelated note, holding eye contact with the person you’re speaking to tends to help them stay engaged in the conversation with you rather than jumping in with another conversation with another person.

Reply

Ruffingit March 18, 2014 at 6:22 pm

With your mom, it might help to let 10 seconds or more elapse when she finishes speaking so she has some time to continue if she wants to or, if she’s open to it, asking her directly “Are you done speaking?” before you reply.

Reply

Cheryl March 18, 2014 at 4:46 pm

This is a HUGE pet peeve of mine. I too am interrupted mostly by family…mother to be specific. She will literally ask someone else a question in the middle of me telling her something. When I call her on it, she rolls her eyes and the message I get is that this other person is so much more important to her than me.
So fast forward several years and where do I work??? A call center and many people are so intent on telling you every single thing going on that one you cannot get a word in edge wise and two, they cannot listen until they get it all out. So most of the time I let them ramble until the screens come up. But when I am explaining something to you that you stated you needed help with and you continue to interrupt me, eventually you will get hung up on. I know the anger is from my childhood, but it pushes all kinds of buttons and many times I react before thinkg.

Reply

Ask a Manager March 18, 2014 at 4:47 pm

So aside from the interrupting piece of this, what do you think about piece of this that’s about people actually sidelining the conversation (not just building on what the OP was saying, but just starting in on a totally different topic)? I suspect that particularly makes her feel like people are treating her like what she said didn’t matter.

Reply

Jen S. 2.0 March 18, 2014 at 5:13 pm

I really, really, really think that depends on the OP’s answer to a number of the issues mentioned above.

It’s possible that she is not fully aware that she is rambling on long past the expiration date of her (…already boring?…) topic, and others are waiting to change the topic until they just can’t wait any more. This could be a hint that she may want to think honestly about whether she tends to stretch out the conversation needlessly by sharing minute details of too many subjects, and whether she could start trying to stay out of the weeds a bit, or get into the habit of wrapping up what she’s saying much sooner. There’s an art to keeping people engaged in what you’re saying, and part of that art is ending WHILE people are still engaged.

But if she’s always just half a sentence in, then either A) she has an awful lot of very rude coworkers and friends, or B) maybe her topics tend to be off the subject to begin with, and others are coming back to the topic at hand.

Reply

College Career Counselor March 18, 2014 at 5:19 pm

I think that the sideline conversation is either an attempt to multi-task (“Ooh, there’s so and so–I need to ask her this quick question!”) that goes awry, or more likely the listener has become bored with the person currently talking (or thinks she has gotten everything necessary already) and is seeking conversational diversion elsewhere.

I agree that it makes people think that they (or their words) don’t matter, which can be maddening. I have a relative who while not shy, cannot abide interruptions and will often go into a rage or completely shut down if the expected/appropriate level of attention and/or quiet is not observed while speaking.

Reply

De Minimis March 18, 2014 at 5:19 pm

That happens to me sometimes too, and it definitely does make me feel like I might as well have not said anything. Sometimes though I have to just check that I’m engaged in the conversation and not saying something that is perceived as random or irrelevant.

I do have the thing too where I haven’t “finished” my thought and the conversation has moved elsewhere.

Reply

Anonymous March 18, 2014 at 5:31 pm

I’ve heard that there’s two kinds of interrupters. The first kind is the cooperative interrupter. These folks interrupt the speaker, but do not change the topic or steal the floor. Generally, a cooperative interrupter is attempting to chime in with their own opinions, experiences, etc. For example, “I went boating on Saturday-” “Boating is awesome!”

The second type is the intrusive interrupter. These folks interrupt in ways that change the subject or take the floor away from the original speaker. For example, “I went boating on Saturday-” “The elevator is broken again.”

The first type (cooperative) tends to be less disruptive, and it’s easier for the original speaker to pick back up where they left off. The second type (intrusive) demonstrates that the interrupter feels that their own comments have a higher priority than the original speaker’s. With some exceptions, intrusive interruptions are more about power and a lack of respect.

What concerns me about the OP’s case is that this has occurred for years with many different people. It’s not one or two rude people; it’s a general theme. That speaks more about the OP’s conversation style, self-confidence, self-respect, etc. When people get away with interrupting without consequence, it only reinforces the behavior.

Reply

Kerr March 18, 2014 at 6:39 pm

I’m following this thread with interest, because I’ve run into the same or related problems, and I like AAM and Anonymous’ clarification here.

The first type of interruption doesn’t bug me nearly as much as the second type – especially since I do it too! That’s just “engaged conversation”. Sometimes frustrating, because I’m quiet and can take slightly more time to marshal my thoughts, but not completely objectionable.

The second type has happened to me, and it makes me feel awful. Sometimes I think it’s because I’m quiet – but sometimes it doesn’t seem plausible that the interrupter didn’t hear me. Or at least see that I was talking, even if they didn’t catch it. (You’ve got eyes, haven’t you?) And then, if people flat-out ignore me and latch onto the interrupter’s comment, I feel doubly awful. Like my topic of conversation was somehow offensive (when it wasn’t), or dull as watching paint dry (when it hopefully wasn’t). Or worse, that I’m so uninteresting that it’s not even worth letting me finish completing my sentence.

Reply

KM March 19, 2014 at 1:02 pm

I think that’s a good way of breaking it down.

I pause when I’m talking (because words have a rhythm, people!) so I relate to a lot of the other comments that have been made, but I agree that the weirdest part of the question is that people are flat-out changing the subject, which, in my experience, usually requires a little more finesse.

One reason I’m not good at group conversations is because people drop in and out of sub-conversations fluidly and I find that counter-intuitive (and distracting, because I can’t selectively tune it out if someone is talking about something else right next to me). I have definitely been in situations where I answer a question in settings like that and the person I’m talking to lets his or her attention jump to a louder sub-conversation beside me. It does feel rude at the time, if that’s not how you like to communicate, but if this is only happening in social conversations rather than work-related ones, if might be easier if the OP just accepts that that’s not a conversational style that works for him/her and goes into the conversation with lower expectations about getting something out of it.

For real — I worked at one place where I just sort of let people chatter like birds while I drank my coffee and it seemed sort of like I was social because I was standing there, but I left all my actual relationship-building for smaller groups of two or three. It seemed to work out pretty well, and I didn’t have to get frustrated in the meantime.

Reply

Anonicorn March 18, 2014 at 5:45 pm

I completely empathize with OP on that. I’ve repeatedly spoken a full sentence, at least, when a coworker chimes in with something totally different. It’s possible that they’re rude and dismissive, but it’s also possible that I sometimes have a quiet voice and they didn’t hear me.

It might be helpful to note when you’re being interrupted. Does it happen only, or more often, when you talk about non-work topics? This is true in my situation and as slighted as I might feel about it, I just roll with it. It wasn’t really that important. But if it’s also happening when you discuss work-related things then you might consider speaking up for yourself more in those instances. “Let’s talk about so-and-so again, because I think it’s important that….”

I’d also try to note if coworkers catch themselves when they do it and apologize for it. You know, we tend to remember the negative feelings and might not remember that Jane said “sorry” after she interrupted.

Reply

Anna March 18, 2014 at 6:36 pm

My younger brother does this to me and to me it just means he’s disinterested or I’m rambling or I’m just repeating myself or I’m taking too long to get to the point.

I think I might have done this too or at least I have wanted to, as bad as it sounds. Sometimes a person would be going on and on when I’m no longer interested in what they have to say. Anyone with tips for how to move the conversation along, change the topic while keeping the flow?

Reply

Not So NewReader March 18, 2014 at 9:34 pm

I think OPs story about her mom and the blood sugar meter was a horrible story. Having lived with a diabetic that blood sugar meter can mean the difference between life and death. For her mother to be so easily derailed by a friend’s comment is amazing.

Yeah, that is the type of story you remember for a life time.

OP, it’s not your fault that you mother was so easily distracted. And as a kid, you really didn’t know what to do to get her to refocus. Again, not your fault. (I had this type of thing happen to me a couple of times. Boy, did it send a bad message. wow.)

But as an adult you CAN change that whole picture. People here have suggested several ways of bringing back the topic of conversation. My personal fav is “can I finish?” It is short and seems to make the receiving person THINK. (“Whoops, I made a mistake, I made OP have to ask if she could finish speaking.”)
I take back the conversation but I try to think what could have trigger the distraction. So maybe I am too long winded then I will cut to the chase faster: “Well, I just want to know do you think I should buy a GE or Maytag? I know you recently bought a washer and I wanted your thoughts.”

I had a time where I literally ran after a boss who walked away from me too soon. “No, wait, Boss. You don’t have all the information on this that you need to know.” She thanked me for stopping her.

FWIW- I think that anyone who is tending to a person with a medical problem and suddenly “forgets” to keep following along has committed a major failure.
Not all interruptions are on the same par as what happened with your mother when you did not feel well. In my mind, that is the type of thing that breaks down trust in a relationship.

Ponder this one: Do you privately believe that people will interrupt you because what you say has no value? I mean after all your own mother could not listen to you talk about a medical concern.
All it takes is one instance to give us a life time of misconceptions/misunderstandings.

The solution there is to remind yourself that sometimes you will have to ask (or say something) two or three times before you will be heard by some people.

Granted, not every situation is the hill to die on. Pick and chose the times you want to redirect the conversation back to your topic. “So, Ann, I’d like to go back to what you did to help your sick cat. This is important to me because my precious kitty seems to be under the weather…” When a topic is important to you, make sure you drag the convo back to where you left off.

Reply

Ellie H. March 18, 2014 at 9:36 pm

I noticed this too (everyone is commenting about engagement-style interrupting and not disengagement-style interrupting) but don’t have a good answer or any thoughts about it. I agree that it’s troubling and not really explicable by different conversational culture, style, etc.

I feel sympathetic to the OP because it’s awful to feel like other people think what you say doesn’t matter. My first thought was that the OP possibly frequently initiates conversations about things others aren’t interested in talking about, or that he or she is distracting to others, and they want to short-circuit the conversation. I have a coworker who is in the habit of randomly speaking to me (and everyone) about completely random things (some work related, many not) and I am always trying new strategies to discourage this. I honestly like her a lot and often I try to be nice by engaging her or responding in kind with a social comment or just a “listening noise,” and sometimes I’m indeed interested in what she is talking about and am happy to engage in conversation, but other strategies include not making eye contact, wearing headphones and saying “What?” after removing them, and I do probably sometimes say something that bears zero relevance to whatever she just said. The problem is that sometimes it’s important and work related and I have no way of knowing! Again, I feel sympathetic and I don’t want to pile on to the OP but I wonder if he/she is indeed the common denominator. Another possibility is that there is someone *else* in the office who is overly talkative and the coworkers have developed this habit reflexively and it’s become ingrained in the office culture. I think the likeliest explanation is that the coworkers interrupt everybody and the OP is perhaps more conscious of it.

Reply

Cheryl March 18, 2014 at 4:56 pm

This is a HUGE pet peeve of mine. I too am interrupted mostly by family…mother to be specific. She will literally ask someone else a question in the middle of me telling her something. When I call her on it, she rolls her eyes and the message I get is that this other person is so much more important to her than me.
So fast forward several years and where do I work??? A call center and many people are so intent on telling you every single thing going on that one you cannot get a word in edge wise and two, they cannot listen until they get it all out. So most of the time I let them ramble until the screens come up. But when I am explaining something to you that you stated you needed help with and you continue to interrupt me, eventually you will get hung up on after you are warned several times.

Reply

Chris March 18, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Beeeeen there. I have a fairly deep voice, but I don’t boom (unless I try), and I think it’s easy to talk over me. Talking with my hands helps, I think, as it draws visual as well as audio attention.

I also find that, if it’s in a rude context, staring intently at the offender can sometimes help (I had a friend at work who did this constantly, and I eventually partially cured her of it this way, or at least she would realize she was doing it and apologize), but that only works in very small groups, say 3-4 people, and some people don’t notice

Reply

HR “Gumption” March 18, 2014 at 5:29 pm

Sounds like we have two interrupting scenarios at play here.

First an “interactive” conversation, where someone might interject for clarification or opinion.

Second, and what I think the OP is referring to, is a conversation hijack. Conversation is interrupted mid stream with a completely different subject matter. This I find very rude and don’t see/hear it often. I’m in Seattle and it’s as taboo to our culture jay-walking.

Reply

HR “Gumption” March 18, 2014 at 5:30 pm

“as” jay-walking.

Reply

Ruffingit March 18, 2014 at 5:38 pm

Oh, put a coin in the slot why don’t you?! This is a topic I’ve thought a lot about. OP, I can nearly guarantee it’s not you. People stink at listening. Really, truly good listeners who pay attention to what is being said are so rare that people make mention of it when they meet them as in “He/She makes me feel like I’m the only person in the room!”

Generally, people do the following things in conversation with others:

1. Interrupt

2. Supply the word or ending to your sentence (and often they’re wrong).

3. Talk over you.

4. Listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. These people are just chomping at the bit, waiting for you to stop talking so they can say what they want to say. And sometimes, they don’t even wait, they just interrupt you.

It’s rude behavior and really unfortunate because I have found through the years that changing my way of communicating with people reaps a ton of rewards. I am by no means perfect in communication, far from it, but I am frequently told I’m a good listener and one of the reasons is because I am patient. I don’t rush people through their thoughts, I try to understand what is being said both on the surface and on a deeper level, and I let the person have room to express it. I have learned a ton of things that I otherwise wouldn’t have known that have been helpful to my relationships. When people have room to express themselves, they will do so and you get so much out of those conversations if you really listen.

OP, I’m sorry you’re experiencing this, but let me reiterate it’s truly not you. This is a very common and very sad thing that people just won’t shut up and listen.

Reply

ME March 18, 2014 at 6:29 pm

OMG I was in a meeting with someone today doing these, and they didn’t understand the technical side of the meeting, so the whole thing was embarrassing.

Reply

Another Fed March 19, 2014 at 7:53 am

Ruffingit….you hit the nail on the head!

I see this day in and day out at my job. People call in for assistance with doing their taxes or to set up payment plans and have a preconceived notion of how to accomplish all this. But as with any federal employee, not only do we have specific procedures to follow, there is this thing called the law and no matter what your story is, I cannot change that law to accommodate your circumstances.
Like you I go out of my way to explain things to folks so they understand how to dig themselves out of this hole and I get a lot of compliments for doing so. But I really have a hard time with those who call for help and then refuse to listen, keep interrupting me, won’t stop talking and then want to argue about something they know nothing about. One can use all the tricks of a monotone voice, or just going silent or just listening for a spell but it gets old when I try over and over to explain something and get talked over. I have been known to tell people calling me for assistance and then not allowing me to speak that it’s a waste of their time and mine to be on hold for 40 minutes just to get to me and then not allow me to speak. I have also had to release the calls when they will not stop interrupting me and why would one spend so long on hold only to cuss me out? Surely you know I am going to release the call.
But I also know that people are intimidated by the federal agency I work for. I know that talking about money is a huge deal with family and even more so with strangers. I know that what is feared is usually met with much resistance to the issue itself as well as to the change requested to resolve the issue. I know that we are a society of instant gratification and that includes immediate answers where none exist. I know that people feel cornered by their debts and many times cannot see the forest for the trees. I know that the elderly do not hear or comprehend at the speed of light, so extra care has to be taken for them to understand what is conveyed. And I know that the really poor individuals will have a hard time understanding what I am saying due to the lack of resources and education available to them as well as the fact that the reality I speak of is alien to them.
I know that different parts of the country conduct business differently: (These are all generalizations) New Yorkers speak fast, have no patience and try to finish my sentences, Massachusetts people are hard to understand due to the accents, we both have to repeat ourselves a lot. Those that make 6+ figures a year seem to think the laws we all follow don’t apply to them and there is an air to the conversation of entitlement or a holier than thou attitude, the deep south sometimes do not understand basic English, etc. In other words, what I am saying is we each bring a different perspective, a different culture, and a different way of communicating with each other to the table. And I believe if we all recognized the differences for what they are without taking offense, we’d all be able to communicate so much better.

Reply

Q March 18, 2014 at 6:05 pm

I have a coworker that will not stop talking. She doesn’t pause for breath and I feel constantly, after about 10 mintues, that I need to leave the conversation. She doesn’t leave any openings to get away. She also keeps telling the same story over and over again. So if this is what you are doing, pause and let people get out of the conversation. I sometimes spend 15 minutes to 30 minutes talking with her. It is too much because I have to bill every 15 minutes to a client.

Reply

Ruffingit March 18, 2014 at 6:20 pm

Those people can drive you up a wall. I have a relative who does that and it’s literally exhausting. You get off the phone or away from seeing him and you have to take a nap. It’s not a conversation, it’s a monologue. The person is talking AT you, not with/to you.

Reply

Right there with you March 18, 2014 at 8:14 pm

This happens to me all the time. I’ve always thought it was something about me too.

I don’t ramble, I don’t pause, I will just be talking, stating my opinion or telling a story and someone else will jump in, usually with something unrelated, and the conversation will go in that direction.

It is so frustrating to feel like what you have to say doesn’t matter, and no one cares.

Sometimes I will go back to what I was saying, when the conversation lulls, and people typically humor me, but I can also usually tell that they forgot I had been talking at all. This is always very awkward and I feel like I’m forcing conversation on them, when I’m just trying to finish my thought. I hate it.

The thing is, it happens everywhere. It happens with people I’ve known forever, and people I have just met. It happens when I’m making a one sentence statement, or when telling a story.

I feel for you OP, I wish I had a solution, but I tend to just stop trying to contribute once it happens, which is probably not the right response, but I’m so sick of it that its the easiest response without getting outwardly upset and making the situation awkward.

Reply

Cheryl March 19, 2014 at 8:05 am

I grew up not talking as it seemed pointless to me as no one listened anyway. I did write however and still to this day, I write so much better than I talk.
It took me many years of therapy to learn to speak again. When I finally got to the point of uttering a word here and there, I started standing up for myself. With my family especially what I have found is that when you change who you are and how you react to boundaries or what has been done in the past…the family doesn’t like that. They want everything to be the same—
so it really angers me to be belittled or invalidated by an eye roll when I ask you repeatedly to stop interrupting me. I will no longer put up with that behavior from my family.

Reply

mirror March 18, 2014 at 11:52 pm

Just want to chime in and say OP: are we twins? I have had the SAME exact experience my whole life. I cant speak for you, but I am not a slow talker, I do not pause or trail off to think some more before I speak, I dont talk quietly, etc. And this only happens during casual chatter, where people are just sharing stories about their lives/discussing random topics, etc–not work stuff.

And to speak to the “you must be boring people because you’re so long winded” theory–I thought maybe this could be it too and I think that has hurt in the long run when it comes to making friends. The fear of being cut off is so ingrained in me that I now rarely say much more than a few sentences before stopping, and it’s mostly very generic stuff. I wont try to expand on anything, add deep thoughts, etc. Just straight to the point and done. Because every time I’ve tried to share something more personal or meaningful–I’ve been cut off. It must mean no one cares, right? So I dont even try and I think that has hurt me as well.

*shrug* I havent figured it out. My thinking is sort of like the introvert/extrovert thing where it seems like extroverts get all the glory (naturally because they are so outgoing) and with talkers/listeners, the talkers get all the attention (naturally because us listeners wont interrupt).

Reply

Cheryl March 19, 2014 at 8:15 am

I think the instant response is to blame ourselves for whatever the behavior is that we are encountering. It must be me, I am talking too slow, or my subject is boring, or what they had to say was more important or maybe I was mumbling and on and on. This seems to be how we all try to make sense of what has happened and it is WRONG.
I did nothing wrong and I have as much right to speak and be heard as the next person. The fact that someone else is talking over you or interrupting you is not something you can control, therefore it is not yours to own.
Instead own your response and choose how you want to react. Much of what I have read on this thread shows me that many people are not even aware they are stepping all over others in a conversation. If we do not own our responses, how will it ever change?

Reply

Stemmie March 19, 2014 at 10:12 am

+1000

Reply

Tinker March 19, 2014 at 12:56 am

In the “analysis of the OP” thing, maybe I missed someone who thinks the same thing, but the impression I get is of going to particular effort to define and present supporting evidence for a problem.

(granted it’s an advice letter and all, but…)

I have a similar habit, partly because I’m used to having to defend my assertions more solidly than some might, and I kind of get the same vibe from the OP. It’s kind of a useful habit to have sometimes (hence how it came about), but sometimes I’ve found that it causes me problems.

Some people seem to read statements with a lot of qualifications as being uncertain, and it’s also not uncommon for folks to assume that the level of certainty one has is less than the level of certainty one expresses — this being a more common pattern of behavior, I think. The result — and I have definitely stuck my face in that particular fan a lot — is that folks who outwardly express a lot of uncertainty can then be read as soggy messes (which encourages a number of unfortunate behaviors, perhaps including chronic interrupting).

Or not read at all, because they can’t keep their replies under a page in length. Which is not like anyone I know that might happen to be me.

Reply

Liina March 19, 2014 at 4:31 am

Somehow this post spoke to me…

I am the kind of person who interrupts peoples sentences a lot. I figured it out a few months ago and I think by admiting it to myself I have become more sensitive toward that issue and even if I’m not always able to stop myself in time, I DO feel terrible afterwards.

(Maybe it has something to do with feeling insecure about my own contribution so I rush it out rather than wait, because somehow the latter ends up by me being silent the entire time)

So my hypothesis is that 1) these people might not even realize what they are doing and 2) If they do, they feel bad about it.

My guess is it is worth bringing it up with people who take criticism well enough and are generally attuned to self improvement.
Granted – few people are…

Reply

Melissa March 20, 2014 at 12:36 pm

I’m from one of those cultural groups that talks over people. I grew up with everyone interrupting each other and talking loudly and quickly. I remember if my mother and her four sisters were in the room together, they could all be talking at the same time and each having at least two conversations and understand each other. Me and my siblings and cousins do that, too, and even gatherings with my parents’ friends were always three or four people talking all at once.

I honestly didn’t realize until college that not everyone was like that, and I had to learn to stop talking over other people and wait for them to finish, lest I be perceived as rude. And it was really difficult! It had nothing to do with them and everything to do with me and my cultural upbringing. In fact, the more interested I was in what someone was saying, the more likely I was to interrupt them because I’d want to respond excitedly to what they were saying.

So yeah, OP, probably not you. It could be that both of these people were raised like that, and either haven’t realized they should stop or don’t want to make the effort.

Reply

mirror March 20, 2014 at 1:11 pm

I think there is a BIG difference between talking over/interrupting /when it’s still related to the same subject/ vs introducing a completely different topic.

For example, if I start to say “I love chocolate because-” and you interrupt with “OMG I LOVE chocolate too! Do you like white or dark?” That isnt a big deal to me.

But when it goes “I love chocolate because-” and you interrupt with “Hey! I was watching the History channel last night and there was such an interesting program on…” That is really rude to me.

One shows you care, the other shows you dont. It seems like a lot of “interrupters” here may be getting the wrong impression of what some of us “listeners” are feeling.

Reply

mirror March 20, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Also, situational interruptions are okay for me as well:

“I love chocolate because-”
“Holy crap! Did you just see that guy eat it?!”

(maybe a min or two of jokes or sympathizing for the guy)

And then I’ll either finish my thought, or move on to whatever other direction the conversation goes.

Reply

Beth March 21, 2014 at 3:46 pm

I had a similar issue with a coworker who was the same level as I, but felt he was my superior. He often stepped on my sentences. When he did, I’d stop speaking, wait for him to finish and say “I’m sorry. Did the middle my sentence interrupt the beginning of yours?”

Reply

Leave a Comment

You can find the site's commenting guidelines here.

Previous post:

Next post: