Spend enough time in an office setting, and chances are you’ll run into at least one of these workplace nuisances: There’s the obnoxious one who’s competent enough to get away with bad behavior, the co-worker who constantly vents about their personal life, the noisy desk neighbor who makes it hard to concentrate. And then there’s the sneakiest type of scourge, the one that seems perfectly pleasant until you try to have an extended conversation, or participate in the same meeting: the serial interrupter.
As Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino recently explained in Harvard Business Review, just because someone never seems to let you get out a complete thought doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a jerk. They may not even realize they’re doing it: Research has shown that having the upper hand in a situation leads people to dominate conversations more heavily, and that cultural background can play a role, too.
Still, a lack of awareness doesn’t make the problem any less annoying. Nicely asking them to cut it out is always an option, but if you’d rather tear out your own fingernails than engage in any type of confrontation, Gino offers a tip for discouraging other people from cutting you off: Make a conversational blueprint. When it’s your turn to speak, lay out exactly what you’re going to say, using a preface like, “I’m going to tell a story about XYZ,” or “I think there are three things we should consider, and the first one is …” That way, if someone else jumps in before the story’s done, or as you’re outlining your second point, it’s pretty clear that they’re violating the unspoken rules — and it’s harder for them to assume, or to claim, that they thought you were finished speaking.
If that doesn’t work, Gino wrote, there’s still a way to go about things without the discomfort of having to call out any one person directly. “Ask the group to reflect on whether you are communicating effectively together and what could be improved,” she explained. “This strategy would allow every member, including you, to raise their awareness of challenges facing the group, a first important step in addressing problems like this one.” It’s not a plan that would do much to solve the problem in one-on-one chats, but if you’re in a more formal, multi-person setting, it just might force some self-awareness on the interrupter without putting you in a position of directly doing the dirty work. Just try and be subtle about why you’re bringing it up — a passive-aggressive co-worker is nothing to celebrate, either.