#181: Respond to Interruptions in English — Professional English Skills

by | Jul 15, 2020 | 21 comments

Let’s talk about getting interrupted. 

If you’re like me, an interruption — on your good days, when you feel confident and clear about what you’re saying — is disruptive but manageable.

You may lose your train of thought for a moment with one of those, “What was I saying… oh yeah… moments.”

But you can deal with it.

In the worst situations, an interruption can be rude, hurtful, and may even derail you.

If you’re derailed, it means you’re completely off balance, you’ve lost your composure and you may just shut down.

How can you best handle these situations when they happen in English?

In today’s Confident English lesson, you’ll learn how to:

  1. Identify WHY the interruption happened (because not all of them are bad)
  2. Respond appropriately when someone interrupts you
  3. Avoid getting interrupted in the first place

Identifying Why an Interruption Happened

Someone may:

  • Need to deliver a quick message
  • Want to add a point or join the conversation
  • Be requesting a clarification
  • Interject to show agreement, surprise, or other strong emotions
  • Be rude and cut you off*

*to cut someone off means to rudely interrupt to prevent you from speaking

When someone interjects, it is usually a brief but supportive interruption to say something like:

  • Oh wow. That’s unbelievable!
  • Are you serious?
  • I totally agree!

It may be a distraction but it isn’t unpleasant. And you can continue what you were saying.

 

But what if someone says, “Sorry, I don’t know what you mean.” 

Well, then, we kind of have to stop at that point, don’t we? We have to address the interruption, try to clarify, and then get back to our point.

 

The most difficult and blatant interruptions are when someone says:

  • Oh, that reminds me of last year when… 
  • Or let me jump in… 
  • Or they just start talking over you — louder than you — so you have to stop.

They’ve cut you off.

5 Ways to Respond to an Interruption in English

Option 1: Let it go.

In English, we have the idiom, “choose your battles.” That means to select which arguments or problems you want to get involved in. There may be some interruptions you don’t want to address or deal with, so you just let them go.

 

Option 2: Keep Talking

Use a simple hand gesture, like putting your palm up, and saying:

  • I’m just about finished…
  • Let me just finish this thought.
  • One moment… 

Option 3: Clarify and Continue

If someone is seeking clarification, you’re obligated to provide it. Be sure to explain what you’re trying to say and then confirm that your clarification was clear. You can say something like:

  • Did I answer your question?
  • Does that help?

If so, you can then resume what you were saying. 

 

Option 4: Acknowledge the Value and Return to Your Topic

Some interruptions may include valuable insight, comments, or questions. 

In those situations, you can gracefully acknowledge the value and then return to your topic. Here are a few ways to do that:

  • Oh, that’s a great point. Let’s come back to that in just a moment but I want to finish my thought.
  • I’d like to hear more about that. Give me just a moment to finish what I was saying.
  • That’s an interesting thought. Hold on to it (don’t forget it) but before I lose my train of thought I want to finish what I was saying.

Option 5: Address It Directly

Although it may not be comfortable, some interruptions are simply rude and need to be addressed directly. 

Here are 5 ways to respond:

  • [Name] I’m not quite finished, just a moment, please. 
  • [Name] I was speaking. 
  • Hold on just a moment. I wasn’t finished speaking.
  • One moment. Let me finish.
  • I value your comments/input [insert name] but could you let me finish my thoughts and then we can have an open conversation.

If someone chronically interrupts you — what that means is they do it regularly — you may need to be more assertive and have a conversation about it. To do that, I recommend my lesson on How to Be Assertive in English.

    2 Strategies to Prevent Being Interrupted in English

    Strategy 1: Set Expectations in Advance

    Whether you’re giving a presentation to a large audience or sharing your ideas with colleagues in a business meeting, there are two strategies you can use:

    Set up expectations in advance. What that means is BEFORE you start to share your ideas, to tell your listeners that you’d like to finish speaking before they add their ideas or ask questions. 

    To do this, you can say something like:

    • I’d definitely like to hear your thoughts today but before first I’d like to lay out my idea.
    • This may take a few minutes as I’m still organizing my thoughts but I’d like to share… 
    • I think our discussion today will be much more productive if I can get my thoughts out there first, and then we can open it up for questions and comments.

    These statements are signal to your listeners that you may have some longer pauses to organize ideas or need some time to express what you want.

    Strategy 2: Control Your Voice

    The second thing you can do is learn to control your voice so it sounds strong and confident.

    When someone SOUNDS calm and confident, it’s less likely that they’ll be interrupted.

    Controlling one’s voice is something we help our students with in Fluency School and our Powerful Public Speaking Series.

    For some examples of this, I recommend my lesson How to Communicate Easily in English — 3 Strategies for Shy Speakers.

    Now, I’d love to hear from you.

    Which strategy or response to interruptions is most useful to you. Try using it in your own example and share it with me in the comments section below.

    Plus, I recommend you review comments from others in the Confident English Community. It’s a great way to learn and add new phrases to your English.

    ~Annemarie

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