Handling Interruptions in Meetings

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One of the challenging and uncomfortable situations in the workplace, is handling interruptions in meetings in a professional manner.

Forbes referred to two types of interruptions:

  1. Collaborative interruption: when someone jumps in to express agreement or reinforce and expressed idea.
  2. Intrusive interruption: an intrusion that changes the subject, redirects the discussion, or hijacks the conversation entirely.

Oftentimes, interruptions can happen during collaborative group discussions and can generate new ideas and discussions. So, how can you discern if an interruption is collaborative, or if it is intrusive?

Sarah Neville, Director and Partner of Open Line, shared several ways to handle intrusive interruptions to help you ensure that everyone is heard at your next meeting:

Manage your assumptions.

Be willing to cut some slack. While you may feel dismissed or derailed by interruptions, the other party is likely aware only of their own eagerness to engage in the conversation. Separating intent from impact can defuse some of the frustration so that we can deal with the interruption calmly.

Get ahead of the problem.

Before you even start speaking, set the expectation that you want to get through your ideas: “There are a number of factors that lead to this suggestion, so please bear with me as I give the context. When I’m done, I’ll be happy to hear any reactions.” Setting this mini-agenda can avert interruptions before they happen.

Hold your ground.

Keeping the floor sometimes requires quickly and politely calling out an intrusive interruption. Simply drawing attention to the interruption by saying, “please let me finish”, can be enough to halt it. Or you can acknowledge their intent by saying, “I know you have ideas to share here, but first I’d like to finish my thought.”

Enlist amplifiers.

Top female aides to President Obama created a strategy they called “amplification.” When a woman made a key point in a meeting, another woman would repeat it, giving credit to its originator.This both prevented and called out interruptions in male-dominated meetings, and ensured that the woman in question was recognized for her contribution.

Take it offline.

If all else fails, talk to the interrupter privately and share the impact of their behavior; they may be surprised to hear it. Addressing the problem head on, if done constructively, can go a long way to solving it.

By dealing with interruptions directly and positively, you can ensure not only that your own voice is heard, but also that there’s space for effective, respectful communication where everyone can have a say.

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