my employee keeps interrupting me

A reader writes:

We hired a new member of our team almost a year ago now, and her work product is fantastic. Unfortunately, she is constantly interrupting and correcting me, even when she isn’t correct about her correction. I’ve tried giving her the floor when that happens and just ignoring it, and also tried just continuing my thought as though she didn’t ignore me, but it’s just not stopping. Is it reasonable to bring it up with her in private? If so, how would you phrase it?

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Grieving employee won’t come back full-time
  • Should I contact a fired employee to see how she’s doing?
  • Can I offer to volunteer if a job offer doesn’t work out?
  • My references were contacted before I was even interviewed

{ 50 comments… read them below }

    1. Llellayena*

      Also the text of the first question didn’t show up on Inc. Not a problem if you go there from here, but could be for people who start at Inc.

      1. mlk*

        I opened the link from here and can’t see the answer to the 5th/last question. Tried reloading the page, but had the same result. Chrome browser on win10.

        1. ElleKay*

          I had these issues too. I’m going to have to stop reading the Inc articles since this is so common

          1. FormerTheatreArtist*

            I’m going to give them a break for a couple weeks and hope they get sorted. I feel like I’m wasting my free views, especially when I can’t tell how much I’m missing.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Their new site doesn’t seem to recognize when adblockers have been turned off either, even in private browsing windows.

        1. Lurkie*

          Yeah, I don’t use ad blocker, but a couple months ago it decided I do, so I can’t read any of the Inc articles.

    2. Rainy*

      If you open it in an incognito or private window, the formatting sometimes resolves itself.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        Oh yes, thank you for this reminder!

        For everyone else:

        5. My references were contacted before I was even interviewed

        I was offered an in-person interview three weeks from now. I normally notify my references right before interviewing. However, the day after I agreed to the interview, one of my references told me she had already been contacted by my potential employer for a reference check. Are there reasons that employers check references before interviews? Is this typical practice? I was under the impression they usually do this after the interview.

        Green responds:

        It’s uncommon but not unheard of. But it’s a weird and inefficient practice; since most people who get interviewed don’t end up becoming finalists, it wastes a huge amount of time to contact references before even talking with the candidate and establishing some real interest in moving the person forward in the process.

        The exception to this if if the hiring manager knows your reference personally. In that case, it’s pretty normal to reach out informally before an interview. (In that case, it’s generally a time saver, because getting the opinion of someone whose judgment you know and trust and who you’re especially confident will be candid with you can help you make the right decision about whether or not to interview the candidate in the first place.)

  1. AScreenName*

    The interrupter should definitely be notified. I did this when I was young and just out of school in my first professional job. I would have a thought then immediately blurt it out, interrupting the speaker. I didn’t even realize I did this until finally someone kindly but firmly pointed it out. While I was mortified, I was very grateful that they let me know! I worked on it and got SO much better.

    1. Rachel in NYC*

      My supervisor and I have this issue all the time- particularly now on phone call meetings since we can’t tell the other is about the speak. But even IRL, we’ll think the other is done speaking and we’ll end up speaking over the other.

      It’s a process that I’m trying to get better at.

      1. Tarantella*

        I have a new Grand-Boss who I hugely respect in many ways, and he has a very careful and diplomatic way of speaking, with pauses to say things just right. I (and others) think he’s done and jump in, then realize I just interrupted him. It’s embarrassing. I’m really working on slowing down my natural fast cadence and leaning into being present and really listening. It’s hard! But I think worth it.

    2. Minocho*

      Yes, this. The OP will be in a much better position than us to understand where the interrupting is coming from, and the text of the question and their forbearance with the interrupter suggests they see it as coming form a thoughtless place rather than a disrespectful one.

      I am an interrupter, and it is really easy to not realize it. It was the normal mode of communication in my family, and it doesn’t carry the same disrespectful undertone for me that it does for the average person. It is absolutely my problem to resolve, and I am working on it, but I needed to be made aware of the issue to do so.

      It might be an awkward or difficult conversation, but if the employee means well, once they get over their initial mortification, it gives them the opportunity to improve themselves. You are doing them a kindness by pointing it out in private and holding them to a normal professional standard. It may take a while – I still catch myself doing it a lot, though I am working on fixing the issue – but hopefully you will see attention and effort to correct the behavior immediately.

      1. juliebulie*

        In some families, it is virtually impossible to speak without interrupting someone. It was quite an eye-opener for me when someone at my job pointed out my bad habit.

        1. Spencer Hastings*

          There is also the “backchannel”, where you say things like “yeah” or “uh-huh” or “OK” to signal that you’re keeping up when you don’t have the floor. (In a one-on-one conversation, at least.) I can’t remember who this was, or where this happened, but I remember doing this once and the person acting absolutely scandalized that I’d dared to “interrupt” her.

          This is distinct from that thing where you think the other person is done talking when they’re not…which also sometimes happens to me, especially when I’m on the phone:

          Grandboss: “Spencer, can you paint teapot #12345 this afternoon?”
          Me: “Sure!”
          Grandboss: “…and put it in the teapot filing cabinet?”
          My internal monologue: Oh, *%#&, I cut her off again!

          1. Ermintrude*

            This is me all the time. Except that with friends, I’ll speak an entire paragraph, then the other person will continue where they left off. >_<

    3. Pennyworth*

      Its good to be told. I sometimes interrupt people when they are talking because my mind dashes ahead and I respond to what I assume they are going to say. My assumption is usually correct (which is no excuse for doing it), but I needed a friend to ask me to stop interrrupting and now I am much more mindful of my behavior, and try not to do it. I’m still working on it, but at least I am now aware of every laspse and am having fewer ‘Oh cr*p, I just did it again’ moments.

  2. IT Relationship Manager*

    It is weird for someone to call references before a person has even interviewed.

    It might put a hiring manager off, but I don’t put in references on an application. I put in that they can ask for references. If I get passed over for that, then it’s a company I don’t really want to work for. But it allows for this behaviour to not happen. I personally wouldn’t call references until I had an offer ready or trying to decide between two or three candidates.

    1. Laura*

      I’ve had recruiters call references and try to mine them for referrals after they have told me they wouldn’t. I had an interview with someone who had a generic ad but was really trying to recruit for his MLM. I told him I wasn’t interested and he went ahead and contacted them. I’ve made it a general rule that I won’t provide names until after the first interview and the company and I agree to move forward to protect my references time and privacy. If they don’t respect it, I consider it a red flag.

    2. Jennifer Thneed*

      This. I don’t give very much PII (personally identifiable information) to anonymous online application portals. When I hear back and someone actually wants to talk to ME, then they’ll get personal information like my SSN and reference phone numbers. (And if a portal won’t let me progress without filling in those blanks, it depends on how I feel about the job: I’ll either put in placeholders or I’ll just close that tab altogether. I like to protect my privacy.)

  3. Gemma*

    It sounds like the employee is interrupting during meetings rather than doing it one-on-one, which may be a way for the employee to try and be seen visibly making a contribution (not that intent really matters much here). I like Alison’s top three suggestions for correction in the moment but I wouldn’t bust out “I’m not sure if you realize but you interrupt me a lot” in front of other people. I would wait until a meeting has occurred that implements the “Actually, I wasn’t finished/please hold on” type instructions. After the meeting, I would take the employee aside and say “I’m not sure if you realize this, but you interrupt me quite a bit-today it was during X and Y topics, and on Z topic when your correction wasn’t actually accurate. Please stop doing that.”

    1. Sheila*

      While I’m not the supervisor of our department, I do moderate our weekly meetings to help keep to the schedule. A co-worker constantly interrupts anyone who has the floor, whether to agree, interject a point or go completely off topic. I will be speaking to our supervisor about Alison’s suggestions to see if we can keep things moving smoothly and not have seemingly never ending meetings. Thanks for all the suggestions!

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        Every Single Other Person In Those Meetings will be unendlingly grateful to you.

        Also, as meeting moderator, you could provide agendas beforehand that list topics and expected lengths of time for each topic? It helps clarify expectations for everyone.

        I think everyone’s favorite line in any meeting is when the meeting leader says “We have covered everything, so I’ll give you back these 10 minutes” and the meeting ends early.

    2. Tarantella*

      If you do go the “oh actually I wasn’t done” route, please be willing to keep talking. Pointing it out and then refusing to continue seems like sulking.

      I was on a call where someone was interrupted, pointed it out that she wasn’t finished, the other person apologized, interruptee said it was totally fine! but then refused to continue, and then interrupter refused to talk, and there was a long long long awkward pause. I can’t even remember who the interrupter was, but I mentally marked down the interruptee as fairly passive aggressive.

    3. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

      My favourite reply in these situations is “could you wait to hear all of what I have to say before you disagree with it”.

  4. whistle*

    I’m a bit confused by the last statement in response to LW2. (“If she still holds firm at that point, then talk to HR to see if there’s a way to move her out of the role without going the unauthorized absences/firing route. There should be.”)

    If LW proceeds as Alison suggests and the employee still refuses to work full time, what other option is there other than termination?

    1. mlk*

      There could be part-time roles at the organization that she could transfer to or HR convinces her to resign before her boss has to write her up.

          1. AcademiaNut*

            The OP says it’s not. It’s a public higher education institute, which generally means a fairly rigid hierarchical system (although it often means good benefits and job security once you’ve got a job). It might be possible to recommend her for another position at the same employer, if there’s an appropriate half-time position coming available at the right time.

            Even if it were possible, it could be logistically difficult. They’d need to find someone who is looking for a half-time position (or risk high turnover as people leave for full time roles). Then when the employee in the letter retires, they’d have the difficulty of turning it back to a full time position without simply firing the person who had the other half of the job.

            As an aside – by my calculation the employee has so far had three weeks bereavement leave, plus five and a half weeks of vacation and personal time, and is still eligible for FMLA if needed. So the employer sounds like it’s providing pretty good benefits, at least for time off.

        1. kms1025*

          I hate to sound harsh, especially given the circumstances of the recent bereavement, but why isnt this job abandonment? She is essentially abandoning part of the job (the full time hours). Can’t the employer just reference the inability to perform that part of the job and consider that she has abandoned it. Everyone shake hands and walk away?

  5. bananab*

    I used to have a constantly interrupting coworker, and noticed that our boss dealt with it by letting her finish, then saying “let me finish” and then continuing his thought, and then turning to her and saying something like “now, you were saying?” Kind of passive aggressive but after a week or two the interruptions went way, way down.

    1. bananab*

      Welp, pretty much exactly what Alison said, lol–I’d just add that he very specifically let her finish and didn’t stop her. That meant she’d end up having to state her thought twice, which is why I think it worked.

  6. K*

    Alison, do you have any advice on the second part of LW #1’s question for how to handle the situation when an employee corrects you but they are wrong?

    1. Pennyworth*

      I was interested in that aspect too, and wondered if the correcting was connected to the interrupting and arose from not waiting until LW#1 had finished what she needed to say.

  7. TiredMama*

    Ugh, I could be that person. I can never tell when my manager is done with his thought or if he is pausing for effect and find myself speaking over him. I am trying to condition myself to wait but makes every call feel awkward and stilted. It is frustrating.

    1. Kelly L.*

      Yeah, I had to start counting during pauses with my own damn husband when we started dating. He’ll be like “Stuff …………………………………………………………… and also stuff” and I would say something during that long ellipsis and he’d think I interrupted.

      1. Tarantella*

        It’s so hard for us fast auditory processors! (Which has nothing to do with intelligence) In a crowded theater, I laugh several beats before everyone else, consistently. It makes awkward silences excruciating for me, and makes me likelier to interrupt. But that’s a me thing and I need to work on it.

  8. Roxie Hart*

    I had a former coworker who would interrupt during meetings, when you were working at your desk, on a boat, with a goat, in the rain and in a tree. His interruptions lacked any real value – all he did was talk in circles and ask stupid questions. Of course, management LOVED him and thought he was so smart, and made sure to tell the rest of our team that. When he interrupted me during a presentation I told him I would get to that point later, I think I’m the only person who didn’t beckon at his whim.

    It drove me batty that no one called him out on it. I’m so grateful to be out of that horrible office. Management needs to be able to reign in an employee who does this, otherwise it’s not a great work environment. Allison has great advice here.

    1. Spencer Hastings*

      Ugh, doing it during meetings is a special kind of awful. I’ve developed an aversion I may well never get rid of to the phrase “on that note”, after having known a guy who would attempt to take over meetings by holding up a finger and going “Um, on that note…” and proceeding to go on a totally unnecessary tangent. In order to, I dunno, prove how smart he was, or something?

  9. Massmatt*

    I had a temp coworker who would basically repeat everything you were saying while you were talking. It was as though he was trying to pretend that instead of being told something, HE was telling YOU. He would try to guess how your sentence would end, and if he guessed it wrong would go with what he said, claiming that’s what you told him. It was irritating and wasted a lot of time and he didn’t seem to be able to stop. When confronted he would say “I’m just confirming what you’re saying”. No, you aren’t.

    He didn’t last long and didn’t seem to figure out why his temp assignments never lasted more than a few days. The disconnect was very strong.

    1. allathian*

      Huh, that’s weird! Some people don’t have an “inner voice”, instead they literally need to talk things through to think them through, but usually they just repeat what you say and don’t jump to what they think you’re going to say next. Some have learned to mask this by mumbling to themselves or subvocalizing, as in moving their lips and tongue as if they were speaking but without making any noise.

  10. alienor*

    I’ll be honest and say that I have one colleague whom I deliberately interrupt because they literally never pause to let anyone else say anything. It feels rude, because it is rude, but I’m supposed to be contributing equally to the meetings we attend together, and if I waited for this person to be finished I would never speak. Occasionally I don’t have the energy to deal with it (I’m senior to them, but not their manager) and just let them ramble on to their heart’s content, and those meetings usually run a minimum of 10-15 minutes long, with a constant stream of words as they talk and talk and talk. I honestly don’t know how they do it.

    1. CrabbyCrafty*

      I’ve had that in several positions as well — I am in a creative field where there seems to be a rush for people to establish themselves as “thought leaders”. Often, these are not the people who are actually doing the most creative or thoughtful (or even productive) work, but they do get more than their fair share of visibility though constantly, constantly talking and inserting their opinion into every possible gap in conversation.

      It’s unfortunate for those of us on the team who are introverts. There are many of us. And the meetings and conversations tend to be dominated by these people who interrupt constantly and leave no room in the discussion for anyone else. Sadly, they are often the ones who are promoted, as well.

  11. Anonamouse*

    I’m unclear about the situation for the letter writer who wants to volunteer. The reason for taking the job that is a step back is because it would offer part time work. If it doesn’t work out they would then want to volunteer. Wouldn’t this take up for time? They would be working a full time job and volunteering? Is what the letter writer is getting at they want to keep a connection to the company in case another job opens up at a better time? If that is the case, there are other ways to keep a connection that volunteering your time. If the project is one that provides you more skills or a way to use your specialized skills to help I can see that, but the letter writer doesn’t mention it. I’m feeling like more information is needed on this one, and it’s a slightly odd question. Anyone else feel that way?

  12. Hold that thought*

    um, in California there are some pretty strict rules on what jobs can be volunteer jobs, and his software oriented job might not be doable as a volunteer. Basically a volunteer can’t do a job that a paid employee would do. The rules are looser for non-profits but they mostly still apply.

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