How to Stop Interrupting Others in Conversation
In the rush of conversations, the urge to interject often overrides the practice of active listening. Interrupting, while sometimes unintentional, can hinder effective communication, disrupt the flow of dialogue, and inadvertently undermine relationships. Other times, it can cause major escalation for couples. To navigate this common yet often overlooked social challenge, understanding the roots of interrupting and employing strategies to curtail this habit are crucial. As a therapist, I’ve encountered this issue frequently in my practice and have seen how interrupting impacts communication. In this blog, we’ll delve into the reasons behind interrupting, explore its consequences, and most importantly, discuss practical therapist-backed techniques to break this habit, fostering better communication and healthier interactions in both personal and professional spheres.
You know the feeling. You’re talking about something that matters to you, and suddenly you can’t get a word in edgewise. You feel unheard. Invisible. No one likes to be on the receiving end of interrupting. So why be an interrupter? Most chronic interrupters don’t mean to be disrespectful. Sometimes interrupting is in fact an attempt to connect or bond. An interrupter might finish your sentence to show how much they relate to what you’re saying. Or jump in mid-sentence because they are just so excited to connect over something. Other times, however, interrupting is a sign the speaker doesn’t feel heard. Their feelings boil over – you might feel like you can’t wait for another second to get something out when you’re frustrated.
No matter your motives, interjecting shuts down communication. It signals to other people – especially your partner – that you think your opinions are more important. Even if you don’t think that! Couples counseling with a therapist can help you sort out ways to effectively communicate without interrupting. In the meantime, here are some ways to practice not interrupting starting today.
1. Practice Breathing Techniques
Believe it or not, some of the same breathing habits that help you get through a meditation or yoga class can help you learn how to stop interjecting with other people. If you are itching to interrupt, focus on breathing in through your nose slowly, holding for a few seconds, and then breathing out. This not only helps you keep your composure in a heated debate, but forces you to slow down and remain present. Every time you feel tempted to speak up and interrupt, take another conscious breath, and remember that your silence can be golden.
2. Learn to Listen Actively
Active listening means nodding, giving brief affirmations like “Yes” or “OK” without totally interrupting. This lets the speaker know you are listening to what they are saying. When it is your turn to respond, repeat some of what your partner said to reaffirm that you are really paying attention. This technique is called reflective listening. Beginning your response with “It sounds like you’re saying…” lets your partner know you didn’t just spend the time they were talking thinking about your next argument. If you’re focused on active listening, you won’t be as tempted to interrupt prematurely with your own thoughts.
3. Set a Limit for Speaking Time
Some couples find firm boundaries to be helpful if one person is a chronic interrupter. That might mean setting a timer. Let one person speak for five minutes without any excuse for an interruption, then vice versa. You may not need to institute this policy with everyone in your life (for instance, it will probably seem like overkill to a casual co-worker), but practicing this way in the home will help you learn to wait your turn before speaking. Once you hone this skill at home, you can then transfer your increased patience to being a better friend and co-worker outside of your home as well.
4. Take Notes as Needed
If you’re interrupting because you’re afraid you’ll forget about your response, try taking notes during important conversations instead of interrupting verbally in the moment. This tactic can work at home with your spouse and in work meetings. Just make sure (especially with a spouse) that you don’t spend so much time taking notes that you forget to make eye contact with your partner. This is also not the time to be furiously writing down every thought. That takes you out of what your partner is saying and just leaves you stewing in your head. Write down a few words to summarize what you want to bring up later, and then tune back into your partner. When you write down something that you want to bring up later, you won’t have to jump in and derail the other person’s point at the moment. And you still get to say everything you want to. Win-win.
5. Have Rules When Things Get Heated with Your Spouse
Just like you would in therapy, set firm argument rules with your partner. You can’t avoid all fighting – but you should always fight fair. (You can read more here about fighting fair.) A no interruption policy is a good place to start. On top of setting a timer, you can have a code word for interjecting. If you hear your partner use the word, that’s your clue that you’re interrupting and you need to back off until it’s your turn to speak again. Interruptions may happen more often with your spouse because your conversations are more emotionally charged, and you are most comfortable with them. Another way to stop interrupting your spouse is to have the person speaking hold a physical item, like a wooden spoon. Your job is to only stay silent when you’re not holding the spoon.
Like any habit change, practice makes (something close to) perfect. If you’re a chronic interrupter, the first step is realizing you have an issue and committing to getting better. Then, institute better habits that remind you not to interject so much. Talking to a therapist in San Diego can help you navigate these waters with your partner! Give us a call today if interrupting is causing issues in your communication and you want to sit down and figure things out.