Whether you’re presenting in a team meeting, or pitching an idea to a group of executives, having a colleague interrupt you at work can be a stressful experience. Aside from the fact that it’s rude, the interruption itself can hold you back from getting your point across — and when it happens often, it can make you less passionate about the work you’re doing, and less happy at your job.
Research shows that employees who deal with continual interruptions experience more stress and increased feelings of frustration at work — and there’s good reason for that. “Getting interrupted can be stressful because it’s a challenge to your position,” Joseph DeVito, Ph.D., author of The Interpersonal Communication Book, tells Thrive. “Interruptions tell you — and others at the meeting — that you are not as important as the person doing the interrupting.”
Rebecca Greenbaum, Ph.D., a professor at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, tells Thrive that handling interruptions starts with dealing with chronic interruptors: the colleagues at work who are at the source of your stress. And whether you’re naturally introverted or extroverted, confronting these individuals appropriately (with compassionate directness) can seem difficult.
If you consistently struggle with being heard because of others’ interruptions, the experience can ruin the way you feel about coming to work — and that needs to change. Here are a few tips to help you get started.
It can be daunting to speak up about feeling interrupted at work, but it’s important not to avoid confrontation altogether. After all, we know from research that sidestepping important issues only ends up backfiring, and that when it comes to having your voice heard, using it is step one. Greenbaum says avoiding the matter can actually worsen the situation “for the transgressor, for the workplace overall, and perhaps for you.” Instead, she suggests striving for “constructive confrontation.” (At Thrive, we call this value “compassionate directness,” and it’s all about providing honest feedback in a way that improves company culture, by facilitating ongoing two-way conversation.) “Talk things out sooner than later,” Greenbaum adds.
Differentiate between types
While interruptions can be incredibly impolite, remember that communication is often subjective, so what feels like an abrupt interruption to you could feel like a typical back-and-forth for someone else. “Realize that some interruptions at work meetings are normal, so don’t take those personally,” DeVito says. And if the interruption is subtle, he suggests telling your colleague, “Would you mind holding that thought?” or, “Let me finish my thought.” Greenbaum adds that there’s a performance model called “trait activation theory,” where parts of our personalities get triggered depending on the circumstances — and being mindful of when you get offended can help you cope accordingly. “Knowing that we’re not limited to one type can allow us to grow,” she says.
Shift your POV
When one colleague in particular is a constant interruptor, it’s easy to start to see them in a negative light — and holding onto that negativity can prevent you from being happy at work. If you’ve already been honest and compassionately direct, Greenbaum says it may be time to be the bigger person, and give them the benefit of the doubt. “Try to see things from your co-worker’s point of view,” she urges, “And if needed, forgive your co-worker.” It’s tempting to feel stuck in your view of someone if they’ve continually interrupted you, but it’s important to remind yourself that we’re only human. “We’re all fallible,” Greenbaum adds. “You’ll feel much happier by moving past your differences.”
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