Far too frequently when working with a high-level leader, I utter the words, “You just interrupted me.”
The response? “Oh, really? Well, I just wanted to save time and make you aware of this other situation…”
My response? “Right, and I was in the process of telling you exactly about that ‘other situation’ but because you were not really listening to me we have now lost time because of your interruption.”
Interruption happens all the time and it is one of the most damaging things a leader can do while engaging with their teams. Many executives have a very low level of awareness about when they are actually interrupting.
Why do leaders interrupt? Often they fall into these traps or rationalizations.
Blindness to others or to a process
•I have a strong feeling about what you are saying at this exact moment, therefore this is the perfect time to start speaking about it, regardless of what you were trying to build with me or the group.
•I don’t think you understand where this organization is going. I am going to interrupt you and move it back to my agenda.
•Being a leader is about insuring that my people know my philosophy and vision for the company. I’m not sure you know, so I have to interrupt and get you back on track mode.
Needing to be in charge of their team
•I will listen long enough to hear the first point that I can disagree with, and then I will interrupt in front of the whole group to show them I know better.
•I will wait for the first moment that I can step in and demonstrate that I should not be challenged when it comes to leadership of this team.
•I have worked out, faster than anyone else, what your talk is about. I will interrupt to demonstrate I am the smartest person in the room.
Being guided by personal fears
•If I do not step in and express this thought right now, I fear I will lose track of the thought and it will never come back
•I fear if I do not speak right now, I will never get my turn. I will be ignored.
•I fear that the only way to show power in the room is to find an opportunity to interrupt someone else and take the discussion back to my agenda.
Ultimately, the issue is seeing your own impact on another human being. If you cannot do this, you will be engaged in something closer to a monologue. Those in monologue mode do not wish to have their thought process taken off track and will quickly interrupt to get their agenda back. If you do take the time to really see the reaction of others, you will be engaged in meaningful and productive conversation.
Try this. In the next 24 hours, notice when you get interrupted. Take note of what happens in you when someone stops you mid-sentence. The moment you are interrupted, touch your thumb to your pinky finger on one hand. Keep the connection between these two fingers until the interruption stops and the other person feels they have made their point. This should be a very small gesture that no one else in the room should notice, only you. Take note of your emotions and thoughts as the two fingers are touching.
Come back and let me know what happens. Let’s start a conversation about it.
I promise not to interrupt.