Is it rude to interrupt? Yes, probably! (video transcript)

This post is the video transcript accompaniment to this post

“Don’t interrupt, it’s rude.” Did you get told that? Is that something that you think of as good manners? Just don’t interrupt.

I like to challenge and question some of these things that we’re taught, because I don’t think all of them hold up very well when it comes to good communication and good teamwork.

So what about interrupting? Is it rude? Well, my verdict, about 75% of the time, interrupting is rude. It’s self-centered, and it’s not a good idea. So let’s talk about those 75% of the cases.

When interrupting is rude

Interrupting is rude when it’s about you. It’s rude when it inhibits the effective transmission of the message the person is trying to get across.

So for example, if a person starts talking, and you get all excited, like, “Oh, this is amazing!” And you want to get in your idea, so you interrupt them, conveying their message to share your point. That’s totally rude and totally self-centered. Grow up!

Let’s take another situation, where you’re impatient or it’s all about going at your speed. Again, if you interrupt somebody to be like, “Um, okay, but what about this?” And they have to respond with, “Mm, thanks. That’s on the next slide. I’ll get there,” that just made the whole thing more clunky for everybody else. Don’t interrupt. Just be a little patient. Let them get their point across. And then if something wasn’t covered, ask about it.

And here’s another thing I want you to think about. Interruptions aren’t always verbal. There are many ways that we interrupt people with our body language, our gestures, our facial expressions, and everybody in the room knows darn well that you’re interrupting with your eye roll or with your big ugh, that’s an interruption too. Don’t do it.

When interrupting isn’t rude

Alright, so what are the 25% of times when interrupting makes great sense, and is actually a positive contribution?

Well, those are the situations where the interruption isn’t about you and your needs, but instead is about making sure the person is transmitting their message effectively.

For example, if they share a word and you can tell by all the faces around the room that nobody’s really clear what they mean by that word, just stopping and saying, “Can we just pause for one sec? You’re using the word performance management. Can you just tell me what’s included in that for you? What are you thinking of when you say performance management?”, that’s a helpful interruption.

It may also be that a helpful interruption is an embarrassing interruption, which is to say, “I just zoned out for a minute there and I lost the thread. I am so sorry, but could you just back up for a moment?” While it’s embarrassing for you, it actually helps the person who is transmitting the information to know that that transmission stopped for a moment. If you’re willing to take the hit for zoning out, it’s actually a positive interruption to tell somebody that that’s what happened.

Interruptions are rude, unhelpful and bad for teamwork if they stop somebody from transmitting their message or from communicating effectively. But they’re very helpful in situations where interrupting allows you to get clarification, to get everybody thinking in the same way, and in a way that promotes effective communication. So those Miss Manners, I’ll give her a B on her advice that interrupting is rude sometimes. Absolutely, but not always.

What to Do Next

If you’re in a workplace where interrupting each other is the norm, then you’ve probably got a problem with your conflict culture. If that’s the case, don’t panic! You need my ultimate guide to conflict management. Here you’ll find everything you need to know to get out of your unproductive conflict spiral, and break that cycle of endless interruptions.

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