Yesterday, I explained how to interrupt a coworker without creating bad feelings. Today we'll look at interruptions from the receiving end.

As I pointed out yesterday, some people use interruptions to establish dominance during business meetings. If you're the one being interrupted, you're losing power and prestige every time it happens.

Fortunately, it's pretty easy to both reduce the likelihood you'll be interrupted (for whatever reason) and also (if necessary) turn the tables on the interrupter so that you gain power and prestige at his expense.

Here's how:

1. Have something important to say.

You'd think this would go without saying (as it were), but business meetings are not the right time to ruminate, ramble, or talk things through.

A reputation as somebody who wastes time in meetings is almost impossible to shed, so only speak up when you have something truly valuable to contribute.

Seriously, it's better to say nothing in a meeting than say something that's not particularly relevant... especially then you're publicly interrupted. Ouchies!

2. Explain how your remarks will be structured.

Rather than just leaping into your ideas, state that you're going to make "X" number of points. For example, suppose you're in a discussion about an upcoming marketing campaign and want to express your ideas to make it more effective. Examples:

  • Weak: "Here's what I think ..."
  • Strong: "I have three suggestions..."

Because the first construct is open-ended, an interrupter can assume (or pretend to assume) that you're "done" the moment you pause for a second, without seeming all that rude. If this happens, you're in the awkward position of having to interrupt the interrupter and backtrack to what you were saying.

By contrast, because the second construct defines a specific number of points, the interrupter won't assume (or pretend to assume) that you're done until you've made all three points. Also, if the interrupter does interrupt, you have an easy and socially acceptable way to return. Example:

  • "The other two points I was going to make are..."

3. Provide an upper time limit to your remarks.

Again, rather than just leap into your ideas, provide (along with the structure) an estimate of how long it will take you to make those points. 

  • Weak: "Here's what I think..."
  • Strong: "I have three suggestions..."
  • Very Strong: "I have three suggestions that will take about a minute to explain."

The third example frames what you're saying in a way where it's obvious that any interruption is neither welcome nor socially acceptable.

In the unlikely event that you are then interrupted, immediately say to the interrupter "My minute's not up." and then continue talking, over him if necessary.

He will back down because when you started with the time limit you created an implicit social contract that 1) you will only speak for a minute and 2) everyone has agreed--by allowing to you continue--to hear you out for that minute.

4. As far as practical, be the last person who talks.

People are less likely to interrupt you if they've already said their piece. Take notes while other people are speaking. Form your own outline of what you want to say. Then, when you feel the topic is almost exhausted, summarize what's been said and then express your own views. 

Note: timing is essential. If there's a "vibe" in the room that meeting is over, it's too late. You want to make your points just before that vibe.  If you're having trouble gauging the room, err on the side of speaking too early rather than too late.

5. Interrupt the interrupter.

If you suspect that a coworker is playing dominance games by interrupting you during a meeting, interrupt him whenever he's speaking. Just talk over him and keep talking until he stops. 

When he gets upset and complains (and he will) say something like: "You interrupted me earlier, so I assumed that the unofficial rule for this meeting is that interrupting is OK. Is that not the case?" Deliver the last line with a slight but sweet smile.


The best thing about this final technique is that once you've done it a few times, nobody will ever interrupt you again. Trust me on this. BTW, it's the smile that makes this technique so incredibly deadly.