#181: Respond to Interruptions in English — Professional English Skills
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:
- Identify WHY the interruption happened (because not all of them are bad)
- Respond appropriately when someone interrupts you
- Avoid getting interrupted in the first place
Identifying Why an Interruption Happened
- 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.
For more, review the lesson: Control Your Voice and Sound Confident in English.
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.
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Yes have been cut off before, I allow those to speak (not too long) and then continue with what I was saying.
First of all, I would like to thank you for such great help from guiding us with your lessons. Secondly, I have just started watching your videos on YouTube and they are fabulous. I want to improve my advance and business English. And I believe that I am on the right track and place.
Love and peace from me to you.
It’s so good in conversations.Thansk you
I’m glad it was helpful to you, Huong!!
Being French and a very upfront and spontaneous person I found myself thousand times in that position of being labeled as “rude” for interrupting when I just wanted to express myself. I believe in participation and communication and interrupting a speaker is not offensive to me. Yes it may be disruptive for the speaker or some listeners but except in the case of a lecture I think that in the case of a casual meeting you should be able to express yourself spontaneously without any consequences. It is really a cultural difference. Sincerely, I find this rule of politeness too… Read more »
Hi Catherine, thanks for the comment. There are certainly significant cultural differences. When learning a new language, I think it can also be an exciting opportunity to learn a new way of communicating and engaging with others. I hope this lesson has provided some useful insight or tools you can use in your English conversations.
Hi Mrs Annemarie,
Thank you very much for your interesting valuable free lessons.
I’m already a pensioner, but your advice are also helpful for my private life and I enjoy them.
Hi Hugo, thanks for the comment! I’m happy to know my lessons are useful!
I love your lessons ,It is really useful in the daily life.
let me finish this thought is my favorite.
I’m so glad to hear that, Jincy!
I really enjoyed the today’s lesson on “interruptions”. I would use for an example the following scenario: A primary student keeps interrupting the teacher with his ideas, when she tries to explain a new topic to her students. My answer would be : Michael, I value your ideas but could you let me finish my talking and then you can share with the class, so everyone can comment on your idea!
Oh, perfect example for this situation, Kassie! Nicely done.
Hi Annemarie, this topic is so useful for me, no matter life or job. Love your lessons and thank you and your team lots and lots.
You’re so welcome. I’m glad this was helpful.
Thanks a lot ! It’s very useful for my job
You’re very welcome!!
Hi. I really enjoy your videos. Thanks a lot
I’m glad to hear that, Lucia.
I think that this topic it is very useful for me because i live in the intercultural community and my English is not enough to explain my ideal, so that when i present my opinion it is very difficult for me. I always say sorry when someone interrupt me. I learn how to be assertive my ideal.
thanks so much
I’m glad to know this was useful to you, Hang!!
I’d love your topic! Timely in our work set up. This isn’t only for everyday conversation but also in a professional way. Hands down!!
Well for my response in a interruptions , I usually use the strategy no 5. for my customer inquiry.
* One moment , let me finish . Allow me to check your bill charges before we go on to your next inquiry.
I know I may sound direct but
I partnered it with my tone of voice to become less aggressive and still be polite.
Many thanks you Annemarie and to your team.
That sounds perfect, Gladeline. Paring that with a polite, kind tone makes all the difference. And you choice of words with “Allow me to…” keeps this very polite as well.